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Panhandlers are not a terrible sight in cities

By Chen Chenche (Global Times)

08:17, July 13, 2012

The Shenzhen Urban Management Bureau revised its controversial plan concerning panhandlers Wednesday. The original plan, issued in late June, stipulated that chengguan, or urban management officers, could have their performance appraisals negatively affected if beggars are found sleeping or begging in the streets under their administration.

According to the plan, each beggar appearing in major streets in the city could cost chengguan a half, one or two points in their performance assessment. This has been removed from the new edition of the regulation.

Begging is a typical scene in every city around the world. And in most places, its existence is tolerated, but beggars seem to be more unwelcome in many Chinese cities.

A recent widely circulated online picture, in which the ground under an overpass in Guangzhou is riddled with pyramid-shaped cement cones to keep away the homeless, also mirrors the intolerant attitude toward this group.

In extreme cases, cities are attempting to "cleanse" themselves of the vagrant population, at least temporarily during a major event.

In April 2011, ahead of the Universiade held in the city, Shenzhen police announced that 80,000 people they considered "highly risky" had been evicted.

According to Shenzhen police, these people were mainly beggars and former inmates who had been unemployed and might commit crimes.

It is understandable that Shenzhen, a window city at the frontier of China's reform, wants to show people a good appearance and environment.

In fact, some local residents also expressed worries over the dangers brought by vagrants and proposed the establishment of beggar-free zones in the city.

However, regulations on the vagrant population can only be conducted through education and persuasion, rather than forcible clearing out campaigns.

More importantly, urban management should never become an image project. A beggar-free city, though achievable through tough approaches, doesn't look natural.

Regulation of beggars is a comprehensive project, rather than one that can be handled merely by chengguan. Shelter centers are needed to accommodate these people.

In Beijing, many vagrants sleep in McDonald's during the night. The restaurants do not forcibly drive them away, and customers also show a tolerant attitude.

Nevertheless, it's not McDonald's that should be the home for city vagrants.

The removal of the rigid quantified assessment on chengguan's handling of beggars signals a successful interaction between local officials and public opinion. It is a mark of progress in Shenzhen's urban management.

We hope this can bring more reflection by urban managers and thus more positive changes in their governance.


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