The Daily Northwestern

Aldermen delay action on proposed additional panhandling regulations

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) at a meeting. Fiske agreed that the proposed panhandling ordinance needed reform.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) at a meeting. Fiske agreed that the proposed panhandling ordinance needed reform.

Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) at a meeting. Fiske agreed that the proposed panhandling ordinance needed reform.

Keerti Gopal, Reporter

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Aldermen delayed action on proposed additional regulations for panhandling at Monday’s Human Services Committee meeting, citing a need for further discussion of the issue.

The proposed ordinance would enforce new regulations on location and behavior for panhandling and soliciting in Evanston. It also outlines different kinds of panhandling at varying degrees of aggression and proposes penalties in the form of fines or community service for citizens in violation of the new regulations.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said she had serious reservations about the ordinance, including the proposed penalties and the potential for the ordinance to affect some citizens more harshly than others.

“I would hate to make this ordinance one that was really targeting one group of people as opposed to targeting behaviors,” Fleming said. “I would like us to look more at what we can do to reach out to these folks who are out there, and try to make sure we can get them connected with whatever resources are available.”

Fleming added that she was concerned about limitations to First Amendment rights.

The ordinance makes a distinction between passive panhandling, which was ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 to be a form of free speech, and aggressive panhandling or “abusive solicitation.” The ordinance would ban all aggressive begging, panhandling and soliciting, while permitting passive acts except in areas determined to have heightened safety or personal privacy.

Several community members spoke out against the ordinance during the public comment portion of the meeting, and aldermen decided to hold the ordinance in committee for further discussion and changes.

Jackie Prince, who spoke during the public comment portion, said the ordinance failed to understand the motivations of people who panhandle, noting that it is often a last resort when official channels like shelters and non-profits aren’t enough.

“I would like you guys to actually speak to panhandlers and ask them why they are asking for money,” Prince said to the aldermen. “I consider (panhandling) a desperate cry for help. … These are lives that you’re affecting, and sometimes it’s life and death situations.”

Prince added that panhandling can lead to compassion and understanding between people, and said that she personally has made many positive connections while panhandling.

Doug Sharp, a member of Reclaim Evanston, said he opposes the ordinance because it would criminalize poverty.

“We should be reaching out to these individuals to see how we can help them with the resources of the city and our local non-profit community,” Sharp said, “Not creating methods by which we can fine them for their efforts to feed and clothe themselves.”

Although conversation at Monday’s meeting mainly concentrated on the ordinance as it would apply to individual citizens panhandling for themselves, the proposed regulations would also extend to political or charitable solicitation.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said she agreed the proposed ordinance needed reform, but also she feels something must be done to address the concerns of residents.

“There are some people that feel really threatened … and who choose not to shop or come downtown,” Fiske said. “We have to talk about it because it’s not going to go away by itself. The most important thing is getting help to people who really need it, and if we’re not doing that then something’s falling through the cracks.”

Twitter: @keerti_gopal