Springs downtown is on the way to becoming panhandler-unfriendly, by next month. The city is drafting an ordinance banning panhandlers from downtown and its immediate vicinities.
On Tuesday evening, elected officials, business owners, residents and authorities gathered at City Council chambers to discuss and compile ideas that they would suggest as inputs to the upcoming statute.
Complaints of active and aggressive solicitation, including money begging, threats, harassments and profane language have prompted the City to consider an ordinance that simplifies the definition of panhandling. Coined the “downtown no-solicitation ordinance,” the statute would make panhandling easier to understand.
“Any time someone asks for money, it’s illegal,” said Ronald Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, a member of the stakeholders task force which sponsored the meeting.
Butlin explained that the previous laws were about aggressive panhandling, and soliciting on or near streets and highways. This one “takes away someone trying to decide whether [panhandling] was aggressive or not.”
Police Commander Pat Rigdon said people are shying away from coming to the downtown area and to the west side, just based on fear of being asked for money. That’s why the coming ordinance “will basically target a zone where the economic impact has been shown.”
“That is where the enforcement will occur," Commander Rigdon added, "and, hopefully, I guess, will decrease the number of people panhandling in that area.”
Local business owners and residents welcome the new law — even though they haven’t seen it yet — because they say panhandling has had damaging effects on their activities and neighborhoods, including high safety concerns.
“We have to have compassion, but having young girls being approached and have aggressive panhandling towards them is not acceptable. And, when you have five or six people in a 25-foot square area asking you for money, [that's] not acceptable either,” complained Bonnie Lapora from the west side.
She thinks the community needs to take a stand and get this stopped because these individuals have alcohol and drug issues, and nothing to do with homelessness.
While the meetings strongly highlighted the line between panhandling and homelessness, making it clear that most panhandlers are housed and engage in drugs and alcohol, Brett Iverson, of CSPD's Homeless Outreach Team, has told the Indy in the past that, yes, some of the panhandlers do panhandle to support addictions; others, however, panhandle to make ends meet at the end of the month when other financial means, such as social security, run out.
To avoid confusion in the future, authorities says the ordinance will not distinguish true homeless and panhandlers.
“The ordinance will be behavior-driven, so if they were actually approaching people and asking for money, that’s the behavior we will address. We will not care if they are homeless or panhandler,” Commander Rigdon said, adding that the Police Department does try to offer those people services to get them into a better situation.
“Unfortunately some people refuse our services, they don’t want them. But truly the ordinance is behavior-driven.”
One west side woman said she’s afraid her neighborhood will go downhill and turn into a ghetto with all these people around businesses, harassing customers for money.
“Already a lot of the stores have closed. I am just afraid that if they don’t get customers, it’s because a lot of our neighbors are going over to King Soopers on Centennial just to avoid the panhandlers. And it will be a shame if Safeway or Walgreens closes. It will be hard on the neighborhood and the property values,” Carol Wellman pointed out.
Commander Rigdon called on the audience to use cameras and cellphones to photograph aggressive solicitors, as a way to help the police track wrongdoers. He said the level of punishment will be decided by the city attorney's office.
“If there is a fine involved, if it’s a jail time, I think that’s something they have to decide.”