Cincinnati Restricts Panhandling

Homeless Grapevine sent for Cincinnati distribution

By Max Johnson

             In early May the Cincinnati city council passed a “sidewalk Protection Ordinance,” which prohibits sitting or lying on a sidewalk with a blanket, chair or stool between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

            Cincinnati also passed an Anti-Begging Ordinance which prohibits people from asking for change on the streets.  Both become law July 1, 1995.

            The legislation was sponsored by Councilman Phil Heimlich and was proposed by Downtown Cincinnati Inc., a downtown development and service organization. Both claim that ‘panhandling adversely affects downtown businesses, and feed (s) the perception that our downtown is unsafe.”

            David Phillips, CEO and DCI said that there were many studies that show the negative impact on business.  When pressed for the name of the organization that conducted a study linking panhandling with a decline in business, Phillips said,  “I can’t remember the organization that did that study, but exit polls (at Christmas) of shoppers cited panhandling as the number one reason they did not shop downtown.”

            The Anti-Begging Ordinance according to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless will prohibit asking for change if the person is: threatened, entering a car, within 10 feet of an Automatic Teller Machine, within 6 feet of a storefront, or if it is after dark.

            Pat Clifford, Director of the GCCH, was quoted in Cincinnati Enquirer as saying, “Panhandling is the least of downtown’s problems.  DCI’s mean-spirited crackdown would be enforced on people with the least opportunity in society.”

            “Panhandling doesn’t help anybody one iota,” Phillips adamantly explained.  “Don’t kid yourself.  It is a device that destroys people,” he proselytized.

An important element of the panhandling initiative is to educate downtown workers about how they contribute to the social problem by giving spare change to panhandler’s money which many times feeds an addiction, not a person,” said Phillips, in an editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

            The ordinance passed with only one councilperson voting against the proposal.  Clifford said that there was one bright spot, and that the ordinances were passed under a sunset provision until November 1995.  This means that the full council must revisit the issue in November to keep the anti –panhandling laws on the books.

            The Cincinnati Coalition has condemned the ordinances because, “there are no places for homeless, mentally or physically disabled to go when shelters are closed during the day…Homeless people should have at least the same fights as advertising executives, telemarketers, and politicians to make money by means some might find annoying.”

            There was a proposal to set up an unarmed patrol called “Cincinnati Guides” to report illegal activity and intervene and discourage people from giving money to panhandlers.  Phillips said that these guides would be social workers that could assess the needs of the panhandler and put them in touch with human service organizations.

            The fine for panhandling will be up to $100 or time served in jail.  Clifford said, “Heimlich’s programs do not deal with the underlying causes of panhandling: poverty, joblessness, and homelessness.”

            Phillips said the purpose of the legislation  will not be to put people in jail, but to “get them help to escape the prison of panhandling…This is an extremely positive program,” commented Phillips.

            When General Assistance is cut in August the number of those that will need assistance will increase.  “They will have needs big-time, “ said Phillips.  He went on to explain that his organization was attempting to set up a program to offset the loss of GA.  “I sure hope that something is in place by that time.  It is a difficult situation that isn’t going to get better.”

            When asked if the anti-panhandling law would be enforced if there is not a program in place to assist those that will lose GA, Phillips said that it would still be enforced.

            He GCCH will combat the loss of General Assistance and Heimlich’s Panhandling Programs by distributing the Homeless Grapevine in Cincinnati.  He Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless will continue the production of the newspaper and will give a quantity to the Cincinnati Coalition who will set up a vendor network.

            The grapevine will feature stories, artwork, and poetry from Cincinnati in addition to the work of artists from the streets of Northeast Ohio.  Brian Davis, Editor of the Grapevine said, “This is a great opportunity for us to expand the number of people that we reach.  Our mission is to be the voice of the homeless and the poor, and Cincinnati is a place where the homeless are under attack.  There is an attempt in Cleveland, Cincinnati and other urban centers to sweep the poor away with legislations and the police.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Issue 10 May– July 1995