Whatever you call it, begging, sponging or spanging (spare-changing), panhandling is an issue in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, especially as the weather heats up for the summer months.
In fact, in a 2002 study, panhandlers in Toronto claimed to be bringing in a little over $630 a month. The issue with panhandling, however, is when it becomes aggressive and crosses the line from a general annoyance to a safety issue coupled with the reasoning that the reason many panhandlers well, panhandle is because they are homeless and there needs to be a way to fix all of these problems.
The city of Minneapolis has an answer for citizens; assures Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. Uptown, meet Amending Title 15, Chapter 385 of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances relating to Offenses—Miscellaneous: In general. In a nutshell, “This ordinance should help free customers and residents from the continual harassment by those seeking money,” described Klingel. “While the ordinance does not outlaw panhandling, it limits it so that it is not as prevalent and disconcerting as the present situation.”
There are many ways that regular panhandling can morph into an aggressive situation where a person may feel threatened; the goal of the ordinance is to keep aggressive situations to a minimum. In the language, “solicitation” is defined as any plea made in person where: a person by vocal appeal requests an immediate donation of money or other item from another person; or a person verbally offers or actively provides an item or service of little or no value to another in exchange for a donation, under circumstances where a reasonable person would understand that the transaction is in substance a donation.
With the ordinance, a person can passively stand, sit or engage in a performance of art with a sign or other indication that a donation is being sought without any vocal request other than response to an inquiry by another person. This act can be done in any place except a convenience store, public entertainment venue, school grounds or shop. Additionally, it is unlawful to solicit in a restroom, at a bus stop, shelter or light rail stop, at or within 10 feet in any direction from a cross walk, in any public transportation facility, in a vehicle which is parked or stopped on a public street or alley, in a sidewalk café, in a line waiting to be admitted to a commercial or government establishment, within 80 feet in any direction of an ATM or entrance to a bank, financial institution or check cashing business, on school grounds, on any park land or in any park, playground, or public entertainment venue, at or within 10 feet of a gasoline filling station and at or within 10 feet of a liquor store.
The passive act of soliciting turns aggressive when a panhandler intentionally touches or causes physical contact, intentionally blocks the path of the solicited person, follows behind, ahead or alongside of a person with the intent to intimidate or continue solicitation, uses obscene, profane or abusive language or gestures toward the person, approaches the person in a manner that is intended or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear imminent bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon property, the solicitation is done while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the soliciting is done in a group of two or more persons or the soliciting is done at night. When this happens, the appropriate action is to dial 911 and alert the authorities.
“It is the role of the private citizen to make the 911 call. Aggressive panhandling is treated as a misdemeanor, and if the police aren’t alerted to the problem, they won’t know to do anything about it,” stressed Klingel.
Giving citizens a way to deal with aggressive panhandlers is just one arm of the problem. The city and the mayor’s office believe that there is a tie between the panhandling in the city and homelessness. Klingel states that when considering giving spare change to a solicitor we should look towards the Mayor’s Heading Home Hennepin initiative instead. “If you have money to give, which we hope you do, please give it in other ways besides supporting a panhandler.”
Supporting panhandlers is like “putting an arbitrary Band-Aid on the issues,” remarked Cathy ten Broeke, coordinator to end homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County. She is heading up the Heading Home Hennepin initiative, an aggressive 10 year plan to end homelessness in the city. Mayor Rybak allotted $100,000 for an outreach program that puts two outreach workers on the streets where they are needed most. “We did a survey last year involving 45 panhandlers, 96% of which were homeless,” said ten Broeke. “We need to work with these passive panhandlers to build relationships, find trust and offer them real life options to end their homelessness and I don’t mean by giving them a pair of socks and a wish of good luck.”
Starting in late July there will be two outreach workers actively working with police to identify the areas and times of day that are a high priority by using a Web-based interactive map that tracks arrests of people with no permanent address. If the program works, the workers hope to approach people and just talk. Build that all important relationship to gain trust and hopefully, be able to offer real choices, unlike ten Broeke’s aforementioned “socks and good luck”.
If all goes well, the program hopes to have four to five outreach workers on the streets by the end of the year and as support builds, a 24-7 system would be in place by the third year of the program. “We need to have a number that concerned neighbors could call instead of the police when it isn’t a crime related issue,” said ten Broeke.
Jeremy Hanson, communications director for the mayor’s office reinforces “The aggressive panhandling ordinance is very helpful, but its only one tool in our kit to make the city safer and ultimately end homelessness.”
As summer gets into full swing, remember your rights and don’t be afraid to alert the authorities if you feel you have been aggressively solicited. If you would like to learn more about Heading Home Hennepin and its goals for the next 10 years, please visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/homelessness.
Jacqueline Varriano is an ECCO resident who appreciates creative panhandling signs, but does not appreciate getting yelled at for spare change through the window of her car.