Atlanta officials have long struggled with how to deal with people asking for money from passers-by on the streets. The city has an ordinance that makes it illegal to block someone’s path when asking for money and also prohibits following, touching or using abusive language toward people being solicited. But police and attorneys say the law is rarely enforced.
A divided City Council voted 9-5 this week to give the panhandling law more teeth by adding a penalty of up to 180 days in jail for anyone convicted.
However, Mayor Kasim Reed spokesman Reese McCranie said Tuesday the mayor intends to veto the amended ordinance because “it does not sufficiently address homelessness and aggressive panhandling in a holistic manner.”
“Mayor Reed plans on announcing a comprehensive plan soon which will focus on tackling this complicated matter in a humane and less punitive way,” McCranie said in an email to newspaper.
Joe Beasley, southeast regional director for the Rainbow PUSH coalition, and other advocates for Atlanta’s homeless have opposed proposals to crackdown on panhandlers, saying they victimize the needy. And while the city’s solicitation ordinance is rarely enforced, police have been known to arrest panhandlers for disorderly conduct.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond said he supported adding jail time to address complaints about panhandlers from his constituents.
“We need to change behavior,” Bond said. “I want to be clear: This paper is not about homelessness. It’s about aggressive panhandling.”
Council member Keisha Lance Bottoms, an attorney, said questions whether parts of the proposed ordinance are legally enforceable. City Attorney Cathy Hampton said the changes have not been vetted by her office.
Council member Cleta Winslow said she’s had problems with aggressive panhandlers herself — having been asked for money at gas stations and cursed after refusing to hand over money.
“This city is just at a breaking point,” she said. “We need to get a better handle on this.”