Carbondale Chamber urges panhandling restriction

Published: Oct. 22, 2014 at 8:31 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 23, 2014 at 11:04 PM CDT
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“I mean, we're not hurting anybody," Smith said.
“I mean, we're not hurting anybody," Smith said.
"We're just trying to do what we can to survive."
"We're just trying to do what we can to survive."

The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce is urging the members of the Carbondale City Council to take on "a growing and on-going problem” with panhandlers in the city's retail areas.

According to the Chamber, the Board of Directors approved a a resolution last week calling on the council to control or restrict panhandling and similar activities, especially on the community's east side.

The resolution has been sent individually to each member of the Council, Chamber Executive Director Les O'Dell said.

The Chamber resolution includes nine suggested actions.

“These bullet points are simple changes to the code or examples of steps other communities have taken to combat this problem,” O'Dell said.

The Chamber said the presence of individuals holding signs which state a need for help is a safety concern, especially in high traffic areas.

But for Carl Smith, who's been living on the streets for the past eight months, he says he wouldn't know where else to go and doesn't think this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

“I mean, we're not hurting anybody," Smith said. "We're just trying to do what we can to survive."

O'Dell did say he does not want to infringe panhandlers of their rights, but wants shoppers and visitors to feel safe.

Walter Beha, a visitor from Chicago, says he understands why city leaders are taking action.

"One of the things I feel is that it's unattractive to have people asking for money everywhere," Beha said.

The Chamber says they were partially responsible for a change in city ordinance several years ago dealing with aggressive panhandling. 

The new resolution looks to further regulate both aggressive and passive panhandling. 

Suggestions from the resolution include requiring panhandlers to obtain a free, city-issued license; treat panhandlers as solicitors; requiring them to wear reflective vests; increasing the minimum distance a panhandler can be from an automated teller machine and prohibiting panhandlers from making fraudulent statements.

The full resolution:

We, the Government Affairs Committee and the Board of Directors of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 400 businesses and organizations in our community, urge the Carbondale City Council to consider one or more revisions to the Carbondale revised city code to address the growing and on-going problem with panhandlers, particularly those frequenting the retail sector of the city's east side.

We feel that the presence of these "sign-holders," while currently legal, is a source of an unnecessary blight to our community, especially the restaurants, retailers and other businesses in this area. The presence of these individuals--many of whom have unpaid citations with the City and lengthy criminal histories--is distracting to motorists (a very serious safety concern at extremely busy intersections). Additionally, their presence negatively impacts the appeal of businesses in this area, potentially reducing customer visits, revenue for these business and ultimately revenue to the City of Carbondale in the form of city sales tax. Furthermore, the presence of these individuals may cause prospective Southern Illinois University students and their families to view our community as unsafe, leading them to enroll in other institutions.

We urge the Carbondale City Council to take action to control or restrict these panhandling activities. Our research has led us to several options worthy of consideration:

· Amend Section 14-4-10 of the Carbondale City Code to change the definition of panhandling to include both "passive" and "active" (or "aggressive") panhandling.

· Creation of "Demonstration-Free Zones" in the business-oriented parts of the community.

· Treatment of panhandlers as solicitors, requiring a city permit. Such a permit could be free of cost, requiring only registration with the city. Permits could be pending a criminal background check and would not be issued if the requestor has any outstanding financial balances with the city. Fingerprinting also may be a requirement.

· Make licenses/permits expire within 90 days and/or make such permits revocable.

· Make panhandlers subject to Section 5-5B of the city code pertaining to solicitors.

· Require panhandlers to wear a photo ID (or permit) at all times. The reverse of the permit could include a list of charitable services available to those truly in need.

· Because these individuals are standing along busy roadways and at busy intersections, require them to wear fluorescent safety vests.

· Prohibit these individuals from knowingly making any fraudulent or misleading representations (by any means) including, but not limited to falsely stating that the solicitor is from out of town and stranded, falsely that he or she is or was a member of the armed forces; stating falsely that the solicitor is homeless or falsely stating that they are seeking money for charitable purposes.

Prohibiting solicitation within 1,000 feet of a bank, financial institution, ATM, playground, school, retail shopping facility or restaurant.

On behalf of our member-businesses and their customers we encourage you to address this issue and look forward to working with you to make Carbondale a more attractive community for business.

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