A new panhandling law passed by the Common Council last Tuesday could help those in dire situations get assistance as well as safeguard the quality of life and level of safety that residents and visitors deserve.
It's a shame when someone is forced to panhandle, whether by circumstance resulting from a mental disease, drug habit or simply out of sheer desperation. It's even more of a shame when the panhandling is a choice and not a necessity. The situation has gotten to the boiling point in some parts of the city. Dealing with someone who is asking for money can be a benign experience, but there are the occasions when assertiveness quickly turns into aggression -- and rare incidents when begging turns into violence, such as the January case in which a panhandler allegedly attacked a convenience store clerk and knocked out one of his teeth.
Laws already on the books to handle panhandling have not been effective, especially in trouble spots such as Allentown and the Elmwood Avenue area, a couple of places where both residents and business owners have complained to police. City officials say the current law is too broad to allow for effective enforcement.
North District Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.'s proposal specifies fines or multiple-offense jail time for aggressive panhandling, physical contact of any kind or panhandling near ATMs, banks, off-street parking areas or bus shelters.
While the problem of panhandling does not affect every person and can be viewed very much as a part of downtown living, there's no reason the community shouldn't have more definitive and enforceable laws outlining the rules of engagement. Ultimately, helping people who may have previously been reluctant to obtain proper services should be the goal, as well as improving safety for residents no matter what their lot in life.