Vanderbilt Law Review


Andrew J. Liese

First Page



In September of 2004, a group of local business owners and professionals in Nashville, Tennessee, together with the Nashville Downtown Partnership, a local downtown improvement organization, submitted a plan to the Metro Council that proposed making it illegal to panhandle in the busiest areas of the city. Advocates of the proposed legislation argued that panhandlers "harass tourists and customers and make the city less appealing." Opponents viewed the proposal as nothing more than an attempt to force the homeless out of the city. The Nashville plan is patterned after the measures that several major American cities-including Philadelphia, Denver, and Seattle-have adopted in an attempt to deal with the epidemic of homelessness that has swept the nation in recent years. Homelessness was first recognized as a significant social problem in the United States in the 1980s. Though the problem has since become increasingly prominent in the public eye, Congress has done surprisingly little to ameliorate its effects. To date, the only major piece of federal legislation that has attempted to address homelessness is the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which authorized a variety of services for the homeless, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, job training, primary health care, education, and some permanent housing. While the McKinney Act was and remains landmark legislation concerning the plight of the homeless, red tape, budget cuts, and the magnitude of the homeless problem have hampered its efficacy in addressing homelessness.