A national advocate for the poor and homeless says she plans to panhandle in front of the Bangor police station Monday to protest a police department Facebook posting that she argues unfairly portrays all panhandlers as liars and scam artists.

Pat LaMarche, a Bangor native and former Maine gubernatorial and vice presidential candidate, said she will donate money she collects from panhandling to Spruce Run, a domestic violence shelter in Bangor.

LaMarche became incensed after several of her followers on Facebook brought the Bangor Police Department’s “Sharpies are a great tool” Facebook post to her attention.

“Sharpies are a great tool,” the police department says in its posting. “Sharpies can also be used to manipulate the feelings of others. We are having a big problem with panhandling in some parts of Bangor. The folks writing the signs are not always truthful and they are using the power of the written word and the sad face to get you to donate money to their cause.

“The sign’s words vary but the message is usually the same. Please give me money for I have lost my job. I have an illness. I want to get home to Palmyra to take care of my elderly mother. Many add the words ‘God Bless You’ at the end of the sign in order to pull on your internal, moral compass. It works and most of the folks doing this are making more than you do in an average day.”

The police department message ends by saying: “We watch your money disappear every day. We know that much of it goes to narcotics and alcohol. You should keep this in mind. We are not saying all requests are suspect. We are saying: most.”


In a telephone interview Sunday night, LaMarche criticized the tone of the Facebook message.

“Shaming the poor and homeless and lumping them all together sends the wrong message that they are all liars and scammers,” said LaMarche, who currently works as director of support services for Carlisle C.A.R.E.S., a homeless shelter in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “There are millions of homeless people in this country who don’t deserve to be maligned this way. This (message) just makes getting what they really need more difficult. There is no luxury in having to panhandle. It’s a horrible, desperate act.”

LaMarche – who ran for governor of Maine as a Green Party candidate in 1998 and 2006 and was the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2004 – sent out a statement Sunday to media outlets that said “Bangor Police Ain’t Getting Away with SharpieShaming the Poor.” She promised to bring a Sharpie with her to the protest, which will start at 11 a.m. Monday and end at 1 p.m.

During her 2004 vice presidential campaign, LaMarche visited and stayed in homeless and domestic violence shelters throughout the United States, a campaign her supporters called the Left-Out Tour.

Bangor police Sgt. Tim Cotton, the department’s spokesman, said the Facebook message was posted Thursday. He said it was designed to warn the public about aggressive panhandlers.

Cotton said the Bangor Police Department, instead of encouraging panhandling, urges residents to donate money to a local charitable cause. The donations will reach the poor and homeless and discourage panhandlers who are being dishonest about their intentions.


Cotton said aggressive panhandling has become more common. One individual, who tells people he needs money to get to a job in Houlton, has been cited for criminal trespassing more than 27 times as he tries to solicit money from people, Cotton said.

“This particular gentleman is making a living and feeding his drug habit,” Cotton said Sunday night.

Other panhandlers have followed people to their cars in search of money, a particularly frightening experience for a woman or elderly person, Cotton said.

“We weren’t trying to slam anyone who is truly poor or hungry,” said Cotton, who noted that Bangor police distribute free handmade hats and mittens to poor and homeless individuals during the winter.

The issue of panhandling has proved to be controversial statewide.

In April 2014, Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire pretended to be a panhandler and stood on Memorial Circle in Augusta with a sign that urged drivers to ignore panhandlers and give money to a local social service agency that would serve the greater good.


This past April, police said Cletus Jernigan, 55, of Gardiner beat a panhandler in Augusta with metal crutches because he believed the man, who held a sign claiming he was hungry, was scamming the public. Jernigan pleaded guilty to assault last week, the Kennebec Journal reported. The victim recovered from his injuries.

In 2013, Elvis Costello’s production manager, Milo Lewis, was badly beaten near Portland’s Congress Square by a panhandler after Lewis refused to give him money, police said. Lewis was attacked shortly before Costello was to perform a concert at the State Theatre. Police arrested a homeless man and charged him with aggravated assault.

A federal judge ruled last year that the city of Portland’s ordinance banning panhandlers from median strips was unconstitutional. The city appealed that ruling to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in January, and is awaiting a decision from the court, according to Portland Mayor Michael Brennan.


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