Council approves curbs on panhandlers

November 23, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Amid hisses from homeless advocates, the Baltimore City Council gave its overwhelming endorsement last night to a measure banning aggressive panhandling.

The council voted 14-3, with two members abstaining, in favor of the ordinance, which was proposed by the Schmoke administration to keep residents and visitors from being harassed by panhandlers.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the decision was difficult and emotional. She told how her mother has been harassed by panhandlers on her way to church, yet spoke of the need for shelter, jobs and drug and alcohol treatment for the homeless.

"Justice for the homeless is a very severe need," she said. "So is justice for little ladies who are trying to go to church on Cathedral Street."

Under the legislation, which is subject to a final vote, panhandlers would be barred from using obscene or abusive language, blocking the path of a person or car, or asking repeatedly for money after having been refused.

It also would outlaw requesting money from drivers stopped in traffic in exchange for cleaning their windshields, a common practice of the "squeegee kids," and panhandling at automated teller machines and bus stops.

Business groups have supported the limitations, saying they are needed because customers have been scared away by the hostile and unruly behavior of panhandlers.

On the other side, advocates for the homeless have demonstrated weekly outside City Hall.

Councilmen Carl Stokes and Anthony J. Ambridge, 2nd District Democrats, abstained from the vote yesterday. Council members Martin O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat, and Sheila Dixon and Lawrence A. Bell III, both 4th District Democrats, voted against it.

Truxon Sykes, head of the Baltimore Homeless Union, leaned against a placard in discouragement last night but vowed that the homeless would continue to fight the bill, which they see as an effort to rid the downtown shopping district of the poor.

William E. Green, a member of City Advocates Serving Homeless, joined a chorus of hisses and cries of "Shame on you" after each vote for the bill.

"I think it's very unfair," said Mr. Green, who was not appeased by a resolution to set up a hearing on homelessness, which the council unanimously supported last night.

Ms. Clarke also called for setting aside part of the hotel tax for homeless services.

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