Word on the street

Thoughts on panhandling in Uptown

During the recent debate at City Hall over the new ordinance restricting aggressive solicitation, several business and community leaders lined up to complain about the impact panhandling has on the quality of life in Downtown and Uptown.

On June 15, the Council voted 9-3 to pass the ordinance that adds additional restrictions on certain types of panhandling in the city.

The city already has restrictions against aggressive panhandling, but this ordinance goes further by placing time, manner and place restrictions on asking for money. The ordinance bans people from asking for money within 80 feet of an ATM or entrance to a financial institution; within 50 feet of parks, sporting facilities and the Minneapolis Convention Center; and within 10 feet of crosswalks, convenience stores, gas stations and liquor stores. The ordinance also prohibits people in a group of two or more from asking for money and does not allow solicitation at night.

The ordinance does not apply to people who have a sign and are passively sitting, standing or performing. Outside of the time, manner and place restrictions in the ordinance, people are still allowed to ask once – but not repeatedly – for money.

The ordinance generated a lot of debate and raised questions about how much of a problem aggressive panhandling is in the city and how far the city should go in restricting this type of behavior.

A couple of Southwest Journal reporters hit the streets to talk to Uptown residents, workers and panhandlers about their views and experiences on being asked – and asking – for money. Highlights of the interviews follow.

Vivian Seaborne, corner of Humboldt and West Lake Street

Vivian Seaborne sees panhandlers in Uptown but doesn’t think much more of it.

The 17-year-old from Edina visits Uptown once or twice per week and has never been a victim of aggressive panhandling, nor does she consider it to be a problem.

"I’m not worried about it," Seaborne said. "I notice it, but I’m not worried."

Seaborne, who is not familiar with the new ordinance restricting panhandling, said it can sometimes can be a problem if it gets excessive, but the problem is more in Downtown than in Uptown.

John Lucach, Lake and Hennepin

John Lucach is homeless and stands on street corners in Uptown asking for money, yet he agrees with the new ordinance to crack down on panhandling.

Although he said he doesn’t aggressively panhandle, Lucach, 38, has seen it happen in Uptown. He also thinks the city is trying to crack down on drugs and terrorism by passing this ordinance.

When asked what he will do when the city starts cracking down on panhandling, Lucach said, "The same thing I’ve been doing." He plans to continue asking for money throughout Uptown until something changes.

"Just until I can find a job," Lucach said. "I’ve been trying."

Sharon Robinson, Lake and Hennepin

A recent transplant from New York City, Sharon Robinson described the city’s panhandlers as "genteel," but couldn’t gauge how big of a problem panhandling is in Minneapolis.

"I see a lot of panhandlers, but since I’m so new here, I don’t know what services are available to people," she said. "Sometimes people would just rather be out on the street."

Julie Ebin, 28th and Hennepin

Julie Ebin said she disagreed with the City Council’s actions and also felt that there were better ways to reduce panhandling.

"I think they should let them be," she said. "I think they should concentrate more on housing, and instead of putting up all over the city statues of dinosaurs, which are useless, they should put that money toward people who truly need it. They should be allowed to [ask for money] if they have the need."

Erin Furey, in front of Lunds, 1450 W. Lake St.

As Erin Furey stands on a sidewalk in Uptown trying to solicit donations for U.S. PIRG, the federation of state public interest research groups, she can’t help but wonder why panhandlers shouldn’t be able to do the same thing.

"It seems a little bit silly to me," Furey said. "I don’t know how we are allowed to stand out here and do this but street musicians couldn’t be out in our exact same position. I think that’s pretty ridiculous."

The 22-year-old from St. Paul stands on streetcorners throughout the Twin Cities promoting clean energy for U.S. PIRG, a public advocacy group. She has seen lots of panhandling in Uptown and has been panhandled on Lyndale Avenue, but she does not consider it a problem.

"It’s not a frequent thing," Furey said. "It’s not like I’ve ever felt really in danger."

John H. Cook, outside of the Uptown YWCA, 2808 Hennepin Ave. S.

John Cook, 38, said that he thinks part of the motivation for the panhandling ordinance is mostly to clean up the image of the city. "I think there sure are a lot more important things the city could be concerning themselves about. I think a big part of it is that the Republican Convention is coming next year and they want to clean the city up."

He also said, however, that he understands why some people don’t like to see that sort of thing and they don’t want to face it. I don’t like to be harassed, and I don’t give money to panhandlers, and there are social organizations to get those people what they need.  A lot of times, you don’t know what the money is being used for.

Martin Vankeuren, Lake and Hennepin

Martin Vankeuren would rather see the city and the state help Minneapolis’ panhandlers rather than punish them.

Vankeueren, 53, said he saw a pregnant panhandler in Uptown last week and felt that she needed real help rather than spare change.

"Personally, I don’t give anybody any money," Vankeuren said. "I just think it makes the problem even worse."

Vankeuren, a machine operator who lives near Uptown, said he has been the victim of aggressive panhandling Downtown, but he never considered panhandling a problem in Uptown.

"Up here they don’t seem to be as aggressive as they are Downtown," Vankeuren said. "They don’t run after you, stuff like that. As long as it stays like that it doesn’t bother me, but when they start hollering at you and stuff like that, that’s when it gets real annoying."

Jeff Rosales, small park between the Walker Library and Uptown Transit Station

Jeff Rosales was eating lunch outside the Walker Library, where he works, when he saw what might be considered aggressive panhandling on June 19.

Still, he doesn’t think it is a problem in Uptown.

"Usually when I’ve been asked, they ask once," said Rosales, who lives in Armatage.

Rosales, 50, has heard about the new panhandling ordinance and although he doesn’t see a problem, he understands why the city passed it.

"I am not opposed myself to panhandling," Rosales said. "But I can see how maybe an aggressive type can be a nuisance to some individuals and maybe keep some people from going to particular areas where there are a lot of panhandlers."

Joel Emundson, in front of CD Warehouse, 1440 W. Lake St.

Joel Emundson, 37, lived in and around Uptown until two years ago and said he has never experienced aggressive panhandling.

"Usually if you turn them down, they respect that," said Emundson, who now lives in North Minneapolis but still frequents Uptown.

Emundson, a general contractor, said he hasn’t heard of the new ordinance and didn’t have a strong opinion after being told about it.

"If people are saying there is a problem with that, then cool," Emundson said. "But I don’t really see it as a problem."

Krista Stensrud, 27th and Hennepin

Stensrud, 28, is a Northeast Minneapolis resident who said she doubts that the law will be effective, but supports the city’s actions to get tough on panhandling.

"[The resolution] sounds incredibly hard to enforce," she said. "I’m not sure that the law is going to do much good in terms of stopping that sort of behavior. And I would prefer that they encompass all of the panhandlers whether they’re being aggressive or not. I’m getting kind of tired seeing the same people over and over on every single corner of every street. I would prefer that they extend the law to cover all of that."

David Caste, 28th and Hennepin

While acknowledging that there are a large number of panhandlers in the city, David Caste said he thinks the City Council’s vote is a misplaced priority.

"I don’t think they should be arrested for panhandling, they’re just trying to make a living," he said. "Do something else than arrest them, because we don’t need more people in jails costing money."  

Caste said he had met a number of panhandlers, including one who has passersby sign his possessions. "Everything he has is autographed by people,"

Recounting another panhandler he met, Caste said, "We had one that walked with us for a while which was a little weird, but he turned out to be a really nice guy."