Downtown Evanston sees increase in aggressive panhandling


Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

A panhandler sits outside of CVS pharmacy, 1711 Sherman Ave. Reports of aggressive requests for money have increased in the last six weeks.

Ciara McCarthy, City Editor

Aggressive panhandling incidents in downtown Evanston have increased over the last six weeks, culminating in a rare physical arrest at the end of December.

“It’s an all-year concern, but panhandling does sometimes increase around the holidays,” Evanston Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said.

Residents recently described requests for money as “almost relentless” in recent weeks, police said in weekly deployment meeting newsletters. Last year, EPD recorded nearly 150 complaints of aggressive panhandling, which the city’s website defines as repeatedly requesting money, following and blocking the path of a solicited person and using abusive language.

Asking for money is legal in Evanston but there are limits, EPD Officer Scott Sengenberger said.

Evanston implemented its anti-panhandling ordinance in 2001. The ordinance prohibits aggressive panhandling, as well as asking for money in certain areas, including near bus stops or within 20 feet of an ATM or bank. Most panhandlers receive warnings for violating city code, and Parrott said arrests are rare.

On Dec. 27, Sengenberger arrested panhandler Joseph Morales outside of CVS Pharmacy, 1711 Sherman Ave.

Morales, 50, violated city code because he was within 20 feet of an ATM. Sengenberger, who handles most of the city’s panhandling-related issues, gave Morales a warning and arrested him after he ignored the warning and was verbally aggressive.

“If they’re problematic with the police, they’re likely to be problematic with the public,” Parrott said of Morales’ arrest.

Although the ordinance places strict requirements on where and in what manner panhandlers can operate, those close to the panhandling and homeless communities agreed the ordinance was rational.

Sue Loellbach, director of development for Connections for the Homeless, said the ordinance was fairly reasonable. She added most city panhandlers aren’t actually homeless but instead ask for money to supplement stipends from assisted living facilities.

A panhandler outside Pret A Manger, 1701 Sherman Ave., told The Daily on Thursday he does not find the ordinance unreasonable. The man declined to give his name but said he had been panhandling in Evanston for about a year.

“It’s just certain areas where you can’t stand,” he said. “I can understand that.”

Aggressive panhandling periodically increases in downtown Evanston and police respond with increased enforcement, Sengenberger said.

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