Proposal would strengthen panhandling restrictions

Two City Council members are drafting a more restrictive version of the city’s aggressive-solicitation ordinance.

The draft ordinance would ban people from soliciting money at parks, convenience stores, gas stations, liquor stores, within 10 feet of a crosswalk, or within 50 feet of a sporting facility. People could not ask for money when they are in a group of two or more people, and they could not solicit money at night, which spans one half-hour before sunset to one half-hour after sunrise.

The ordinance as drafted would not apply to people who have a sign and are passively sitting, standing or performing.

Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said he and Council Member Ralph Remington (10th Ward) are targeting situations wherein panhandlers have a captive audience and people have no choice but to be confronted.

Remington said he decided to take on the issue in response to business owners in Uptown who are frustrated by panhandling.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said a crackdown on illegal panhandling would be part of a larger strategy aimed at the causes of homelessness. A future education campaign will ask people to “give real change, not spare change,” by donating to the effort to end homelessness instead of directly to panhandlers.

In addition, the city has contributed $100,000 to hire outreach workers that will start work in July. The city’s funding may be leveraged to hire more outreach workers soon thereafter.

The outreach workers will initially focus on areas where police tend to confront people who have no address, and they will also target the highest users of the jail and shelter systems here.

A two-month survey recently completed by staff in Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness found that of 45 legal panhandlers surveyed, 23 had spent one night in the hospital, 24 had spent a night in detox or residential treatment, and 23 had spent a night in jail. Over the past year, they had accumulated a total of 77 hospital admits, 181 detox or residential treatment admits, and 96 jail admits.

Matthew Ayres, the staff member who conducted the survey, said he was interested to find there was a direct correlation between the amount of time someone was panhandling and the amount of time they did not have permanent housing. He also expected people to be pulling in more money per day than they actually received.

The survey was limited to people who were legally panhandling, Ayres said.

Cathy ten Broeke, the city-county coordinator to end homelessness, said she is supportive of city plans to target aggressive solicitation, but she said outreach workers are the best way to help panhandlers who are not breaking the law.

“Everybody Matthew talked to said panhandling was demeaning for them,” she said, noting that nearly all of those surveyed were indeed experiencing homelessness.

Rybak said the legal panhandlers who participated in the survey are not the same group of people targeted by the aggressive solicitation ordinance.

“This city has become much less tolerant of illegal, aggressive panhandling that intimidates people,” Rybak said. “It hurts our civic pride to have panhandlers. [Giving to panhandlers] is not doing anything to address the core issues.”

Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or mbruch@mnpubs.com.