The Baltimore City Council, confronted by the people who confront their constituents—panhandlers–voted Nov. 4 to take no action on a proposed revision of legislation to control panhandling.
The law would be revised to require beggars to stand no closer than 10 feet from restaurants and shops, while remaining 5 feet from parking meters.
“It’s a public safety issue,” Councilman William “Pete” Welch told the AFRO. “For those soliciting on the street and for those who are driving.”
But the city council’s efforts to finalize the proposed changes were not warmly embraced. During the Nov. 4 Council meeting, community activist Tony Simmons interrupted the reading of the proposed legislation with a rant against the bill.
“City Council, stop calling this a bill!” he said. “This is a warning that we are no longer welcome in Baltimore!”
Simmons told the AFRO the bill would not stop panhandling because people are going to survive by any means necessary.
According to officials, on any drive through Baltimore—say, up Martin Luther King Blvd., Pratt Street, President Street and throughout most of downtown, panhandling is commonplace. And, officials say, citizens are tired of it.
Simmons said if the city starts housing people and offer more livable jobs then officials will begin to see panhandling lessen.
But officials have tried.
“There are some people that want to accept the help and some don’t,” Councilman James Kraft said. “Some are unable to because of their mental status and we need to find a way to help them.”
He said a bill like this is complaint-driven and will toughen the existing law.
Kirby Fowler, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said he supports the amendment as it relates to outdoor dining restricting, panhandling at parking meters and also at pedestrian bridges.
“This is where we perceive people to be more vulnerable since they are pulling out their wallets and engaging in transactions,” he said.
Flower said his office receives repeated complaints about panhandling. He said the beggars take advantage of situations when people are eating and paying to park.
“If panhandling was reduced it would definitely enhance the experience of anybody who is downtown, whether they are a resident, tourist or employee,” said Kirby.