Mayor Menino Wants Aggressive Panhandling to End

Mayor Menino’s office is filing an ordinance to the city council regarding aggressive panhandling. The ordinance is the first step in a three-point plan to help change interactions between the general public and homeless people.

According to Sheila Dillon, the Director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, the problem was recently brought to the Mayor’s attention through to his 24-hour constituent hotline. Many concerned people were calling regarding aggressive panhandling in the Downtown and Back Bay area. At the same time, those who work with people living on the street were reporting substance abuse issues that seem to be common among panhandlers.

As a result, Menino asked all of the departments to coordinate a task force. The task force includes the Boston Police Department, Public Health Commission, Department of Neighborhood Development, and Neighborhood Services, among others.

The task force created the three-point plan, beginning with the ordinance. The ordinance bans aggressive panhandling and places limitations on where panhandling can be done. Dillon did not want to share how “aggressive panhandling” is being defined legally in the ordinance at this time.

The ordinance then goes to the jurisdiction of the city council where it will be reviewed. The councilors may have some working sessions and a potential public hearing. Dillon said the ordinance would likely be in effect within the next few months.

The task force’s second goal is to provide additional outreach for people on the street, said Dillon. This will be done in collaboration with the city’s non-profit partners such as the Pine Street Inn. The city wants to know what these people need, if they are being helped, and how improved assistance can be provided.

The final goal of the task force is to educate the public on ways to help homeless people other than giving them change.

“The city recognizes that this is a right protected under the constitution. We have no desire to interfere with the right to ask for assistance. We are just trying to curtail actions that cause people to feel unsafe or put panhandlers in unsafe situations,” said Dillon.

“The Mayor feels strongly that this not be seen as a punitive action. He tells me on a daily basis,” Dillon commented.

Antoin Brown, 33 of Roxbury, spends his days outside of a McDonald’s in Downtown Crossing, where he holds open the door and holds out the cup. “This is my 8-hour job right here. This is where I work,” Brown said.

Brown said he makes about $85 per day standing in his usual spot. Panhandling makes him feel good because he knows he’s helping his family, especially his ill mother.

Brown doesn’t feel threatened by the ordinance because he isn’t being aggressive. He even agrees that walking between cars, trying to make money, is dangerous and should be controlled.

“I don’t think a guy should be standing on the street or on the corner but when you’re homeless, you either stand there or try to get yourself in a program.”

—Christine Hayes

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