Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council want to get tough on aggressive panhandlers by banning verbal requests for money within 10 feet of crosswalks, convenience and liquor stores or within 50 feet of entrances and exits to parks or sporting arenas.
The city also wants to ban panhandling in groups of two or more people and at night.
"We're simply going to have a lower tolerance for panhandling," Rybak said. "Your well-intentioned guilt by giving your spare change is only a Band-Aid and isn't doing much to solve the problem. We have to stop it now."
Rybak said anyone intimidated by a panhandler should call 911.
"We want you do to that," he said. "I do it all the time."
Meanwhile, the city is starting a campaign urging people to donate to organizations that try to solve homelessness and problems that lead to panhandling. As part of the campaign, called "Give Real Change," two outreach workers will tell panhandlers where they can find housing and support.
Soon, people will be allowed to donate to the campaign through a Web site and at refurbished parking meters in spots where panhandling is a problem.
The city already has an "aggressive solicitation" ordinance, but officials want to put more pressure on panhandlers who intimidate others.
Cathy ten Broeke, head of Heading Home Hennepin and an advocate to end homelessness, said a stiffer ordinance could lead to abuse of homeless people.
She said her department recently surveyed 45 homeless people who engage in legal panhandling and found that the majority were homeless and nearly half had a long-term disability, including mental illness, and had been hospitalized in the past year. Chemical dependency is also an issue.
The survey, Ten Broeke said, revealed that most participants found panhandling demeaning but thought they had no other choice.
"I think we're all on the same page that we want to see panhandling end," said Ten Broeke. "We have to figure out what's the best way to get there by doing a lot of things and being absolutely sure we're not penalizing people for being homeless."
Panhandler Tia Boxberger, 26, said she came to Minneapolis about a week ago from Portland, Ore.
"I'm not trying to hurt anybody," said Boxberger, holding a sign with others near Lake Street and Hennepin. "We're trying to eat, maybe get some cigarettes. And stay away from the cops."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)