Mayor Reed on panhandling

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The city of Atlanta adopted another new panhandling law this week. Pushed by Mayor Kasim Reed, it outlaws begging for money within 15 feet of a building entrance or exit. Reed vetoed a new ordinance last month that would have added jail time for aggressive panhandling. Today, Reed writes about the new law, while one of the pillars of Atlanta’s faith community urges officials not to forget their commitment to social services, which can help keep the less fortunate from soliciting on the streets.

Commenting is open below following Alvin Sugarman’s column. Please keep the discussion civilized. Thank you.

By Kasim Reed

The Atlanta City Council took an important step forward this week by unanimously passing legislation to curtail aggressive panhandling throughout our city.

For more than seven years, the city has not been able to effectively address this issue. A 2005 ordinance, though well-intended, made it nearly impossible for the city to enforce its monetary solicitation laws. The Atlanta Police Department made more than 1,300 panhandling arrests in 2004; that number dropped to zero from 2005 to the present.

The substitute legislation sponsored by Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms and Councilmember Michael Julian Bond and approved by a 14-0 vote accomplishes our collective goal of a reasonable, humane and enforceable way to stop aggressive panhandling.

Like the city’s 1996 and 2005 law, the new ordinance outlaws asking for money within 15 feet of ATM machines and parking lot pay boxes. The new law adds to that provision by prohibiting the solicitation of money from someone who is within 15 feet of a building entrance or exit or standing in line to enter a building or event facility. It expands the definition of aggressive panhandling by prohibiting someone from continuing to ask for money after he or she has been told “no.” The new law also outlaws touching during monetary solicitation and sets reasonable penalties for violators. Most important, we are confident this measure is constitutional and, therefore, enforceable.

Upon first conviction, a violator could be sentenced to community service. A second conviction for aggressive panhandling would result in a mandatory minimum 30 days in jail. Upon the third or future convictions, aggressive panhandlers would be required to serve a mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail.

These measures are vital to our city. The convention and tourism industry is one of Atlanta’s core businesses, pumping about $9 billion per year into our local economy. I am committed to a clean, safe downtown that visitors and residents can enjoy without being harassed.

At the same time, I have made addressing the challenges facing the city’s homeless men, women and children a top priority. Over the years, Atlanta’s political, business and civic leaders have made significant inroads in addressing homelessness, and I want to build on that hard work and momentum. We have an opportunity to encourage a greater collaborative approach that can lead to innovative solutions to end chronic homelessness. My administration aims to transform how the city helps our citizens, and we are achieving verifiable results.

This summer, as part of a national campaign, Atlanta re-housed 131 chronically homeless veterans in 100 days, more than any other city in America. The city has transitioned more than 200 chronically homeless veterans off the streets into clean, affordable housing since June and we have committed to ending chronic homelessness among veterans in the next 15 months. We are reprioritizing our resources, creating incentives for housing and services providers to take on the hardest cases, and collecting data to help us identify and better serve the homeless. As part of that effort, we will assess panhandlers when they are arrested and determine if they need services such as mental heath care, substance abuse treatment, job training and housing.

I am absolutely committed to making Atlanta a great place to live, an inspiring place to work and a wonderful place to visit. With the new panhandling ordinance, our neighborhoods will be safe for visitors and residents, and at the same time, we will be better positioned to assist our most vulnerable citizens.

Kasim Reed is Mayor of Atlanta.

Human connection still exists

By Alvin Sugarman

Not one of us is immune to the fears and frustrations of being accosted by aggressive panhandling. The Higher Ground group – a collection of religious leaders which includes myself, the Rev. Joseph Roberts, Rev. Joanna Adams and Imam Plemon El-Amin – affirms the steps that are being taken by our city council and Mayor Kasim Reed to create as safe and comfortable an environment as possible, both for our residents and for those visiting our city.

We also recognize that there well may be a distinction between those truly in need and those who have chosen a path of “professional” panhandling. We affirm the constitutional rights of both to seek funds from the public, as long as those seeking funds do so in a non-threatening manner.

However, our task is to seek a higher ground of understanding, or a spiritual context if you will, of what this newest panhandling legislation means. It is quite possible that some who are not destitute have chosen to panhandle as a means of earning a living. That is a choice they have made, and whenever they violate the restrictions of this new legislation they should face the consequences of their actions.

But we also believe that those who are truly destitute would never have chosen to beg if they had any other possibilities for surviving.

This new legislation provides an opportunity for all of us living in Atlanta to reflect on who and what we are as citizens of this great city. This new panhandling ordinance spends a great deal of time spelling out exactly where it is unlawful for someone to solicit money. There must be a 15-foot barrier between someone soliciting funds and those being solicited in certain specific locations such as an automated teller machine, a parking lot pay box, a pay telephone, and an entrance or exit of any building.

But can we ever really be separated from our fellow human beings? Is there not a spiritual and human connection between each of us, no matter the circumstances of our lives?

It is worth noting that the origin of the word “panhandle” refers to the outstretched arm, or handle, of a pan. Remember, for a moment, the first time you ever extended your arm into a baby’s crib. Can you not still feel that baby’s grasp on to the fingers of your outstretched arm?

For a variety of reasons, many beyond our understanding, those on the streets of our city, are seeking our help. We implore our city council, mayor, county officials and our judicial system to live up to the commitment implied in this legislation to do everything possible to bring the social services needed to help those who most need those services.

Alvin Sugarman is former senior rabbi at the Temple in Atlanta. He writes for the Higher Ground Group at highergroundgroup.org.

9 comments Add your comment

Al Bartell...Candidate for Mayor

October 5th, 2012
2:47 pm

Thank God for The Higher Ground Group and the written article……please… write more often.

RAMZAD

October 5th, 2012
12:35 pm

Reed is something else. Anyone who believe that the panhandling in Atlanta is a cause and not a symptom is just trying to stack the deck and keep their brain on vacation. Atlanta has deep pockets of poverty, crime, broken dreams and poor governmental vision. It is no wonder we have a panhandling problem.

If the Fairlie Poplar district, the ground zero for scabs, panhandlers, rip-offs, and petty criminals, would have been transformed into a buzz of shops and boutiques and night life and people moving around after dark the government would have invested in containing vagrants to protect the tax base long ago. But there is nothing to protect. A bunch of dark buildings don’t need protection.

It is because a vision-less local government has kept this area in disrepair and a nocturnal commercial swamp the vacuum had to be filled by something or someone who turned out to be beggars and vagrants.

Now this idiot mayor and his drone city council has decide to “pass a law” to do what their pea brains could not accomplish. Any retinue of idiots can pass a law, but it takes vision and smarts
to come up with something that can make just the climate inhospitable to those who would harass and pillage from people who work.

Compassion

October 5th, 2012
11:48 am

Should be reserved for those who deserve it. I live in the Old 4th Ward and deal with pan-handlers at least twice a week. They do not deserve your compassion or your money. I donate to the United Way and tell these bums (that’s what they are… as if “pan-handling” was an occupation…) to leave me alone. Sorry but society is only responsible for people’s own bad decisions up to a certain point. Maybe 1 in 30 of these people really has no other choice. Stop making excuses for people.

Will

October 5th, 2012
11:02 am

Just as bad as panhandlers, Day Laborers filling the sidewalks in certain areas, such as the shopping area across from the Ponce City Market on Ponce. They make it very hard for people to feel safe walking in the area. It’s pretty bad when you can’t walk down to your local shopping area without feeling threatened.

Grob Hahn

October 5th, 2012
10:43 am

It is racism to notice that the bums in Atlanta are black. One must NEVER say anything truthful about blacks if it is not 100% positive. Welcome to the other side of American prejudice.
Grobbbbbbbbbb

Debbie

October 5th, 2012
7:31 am

I have also pondered why there is not more diversity in Downtown Atlanta’s bustling & booming panhandling industry, as it seems one particular demographic has a stranglehold of a monopoly on the local scene.

nelson

October 5th, 2012
7:17 am

When Sunday sales of liquor, wine, beer was leagalized, a rather short time ago, it was one giant step for panhandlers. It facilitated the ease of getting booze on the sabbath day[Christians] have to clarify it, the bums are getting the message that it is A-O to drink 7 days a week.. That plus on Sunday the church going people learn it is more blessed to give than receive. Panhandlers, not being stupid by any means, stake out a prime place where the parishoners will be passing by.
Johnny Cash said it best, “Sunday morning comein down when a body feels alone”. Invite a panhandler in and let him join all the God fearing people in Church, and have a little sustinance afterwards in fellowship hall. There is nothing like acceptance to drive a panhandler away, they prefer bring on the fringes.

SAWB

October 5th, 2012
12:10 am

This is a quality of life issue and should be addressed like prostitution. We need to eliminate the clientele who support the pan handlers. First educate people on the importance of not giving money to these individuals. Secondly, pass an ordinance making it illegal to do so and ticket those who do. If people will simply stop giving these folks money they will go away. If someone wishes to support the disadvantaged simply make a donation directly to the Atlanta Mission or other organization.

Curious George

October 4th, 2012
6:32 pm

If Atlanta is such a culturally “diverse” city, why are NONE of the voluminous numbers of jaywalking, jive-talking, aggressive panhandlers who come up to me in an able-bodied fashion to “axe” me for some free money whenever I go downtown for a Braves or Falcons game ever of Asian, Western European, Eastern European, Hispanic, Arabic, Polynesian, Inuit or (generic) Caucasian descent?