Panhandlers may be forced to get city licenses and wear identification tags under a strategy being studied to crack down on "aggressive" begging on Buffalo streets.
Some city officials have received an increasing number of complaints from business owners and residents about people who use brash tactics in their search for handouts.
"People are going to cars and knocking on windows," said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. "They're even hanging out around churches and hitting up senior citizens for money when they leave Mass."
Mark Kubiniec, who owns Joe's Service Center at Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street, has complained to city officials about bold panhandlers.
"They walk right up to people at our gas pumps. We shag them away when we can, but we don't always have the time," Kubiniec said.
Panhandlers also have approached customers at gasoline pumps at Delta Sonic on Main Street near Northampton Street. Business operators near Delaware and Great Arrow avenues and along the Elmwood Strip also have complained to the city about pushy panhandlers. And the problem has long been an issue on the Main Street pedestrian mall in the central business district.
Panhandlers don't disappear during cold weather, Golombek and Kubiniec said.
But curbing the problem isn't easy, Golombek acknowledged. For one thing, there have been court challenges to the constitutionality of some anti-panhandling laws in other localities.
Then there's enforcement. Even tough laws wouldn't likely deter panhandlers if police don't crack down on offenders.
Kubiniec said the Police Department deserves credit for putting a newfound emphasis on some quality-of-life issues such as graffiti. But he thinks more needs to be done about panhandlers.
The city already has a law that requires any person who solicits donations or any type of financial help in public places to obtain a license if the person isn't already affiliated with a licensed entity. But city officials don't recall any prior efforts to make panhandlers apply for such licenses.
While Golombek hasn't finalized a plan, he thinks one tactic that could reduce panhandling might involve a license requirement. He wouldn't envision charging a fee, but applicants would have to supply the city basic information about themselves and wear identification tags when they're soliciting.
Golombek said even if most panhandlers didn't comply, it would still give police officers another tool to build cases against offenders. It also might make it easier to identify solicitors who use in-your-face methods.
One concern, Golombek said, involves panhandlers who approach vehicles at intersections and in parking lots. He said some members of the Grant-Amherst Business Association have complained about such activities near supermarkets. The state's highest court ruled last month that a city can fine aggressive panhandlers to keep them away from motorists.
The Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's ruling and determined that a Rochester law does not violate constitutional free-speech rights. The court concluded that the regulation addresses a specific problem -- people who seek handouts on a public road -- and in doing so, create hazards.
Golombek said Buffalo needs to take a closer look at its laws to see how they could be revised to discourage panhandling. "It's a practice that creates a lot of discomfort to people, especially when it's carried out in an overly aggressive way," he said.