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Proposed Atlanta Ordinance to Criminalize ‘Aggressive’ Panhandling Dividing Residents, Activists

The city of Atlanta’s latest attempt to curb panhandling is pitting downtown residents and business owners against civil rights activists and advocates for the homeless.

City Solicitor Raines Carter introduced a proposed ordinance to the city council’s Public Safety Committee Thursday to prohibit panhandling in the downtown convention and tourism district and ban aggressive panhandling anywhere in the city. Violators could be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail.

Under the city’s current panhandling ordinance, adopted in 2005, offenders can be issued a warning or citation but cannot be arrested, Carter said. As a result, the only “panhandling-related” arrests Atlanta police have made in the last seven years have been for disorderly conduct or disrupting traffic, he said.

“There is no aggressive panhandling ordinance on our books,” Carter said.

Downtown residents and business owners have complained about panhandling for years, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed promised to crack down on “professional beggars” more than two years ago.

On Thursday, several complained that panhandling is getting worse.

“When you’re trying to do business in downtown Atlanta and have this interference, it affects your business,” said Bill Ciccaglione, general manager of Underground Atlanta.

But Anita Beaty, chairman and executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said supporters of the anti-panhandling ordinance are attempting to turn poor people who need help into criminals.

“We cannot deal with poverty, mental illness and addiction with criminalizing ordinances,” she said.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said his target in going after panhandling is a small group of people who continue to beg for money over and over because the system does not penalize them for doing so…

Read more: Dave Williams, Atlanta Business Chronicle


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