Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Homeless coalition speaks out

Vendors' sales at stake

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A proposal to crack down on Cincinnati panhandlers is getting support from downtown businesses, homeless shelters and Cincinnati City Council.

        Everyone, it seems, except the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.

        The homeless group says panhandling is a constitutional right — especially since they encourage panhandlers to sell copies of Streetvibes, a monthly newspaper published by the coalition.

        “It's a First Amendment issue. It's free speech. We have every right to do what we're doing,” coalition director Alicia Beck told City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. “We are no different than the Enquirer or the Post.

        Vendors sell the paper for $1, pocketing an 80-cent profit.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said it's helping destroy downtown.

        “If you want a rack to put your papers in, I'll work to get you one,” he said. “What you are doing to your city is not healthy, and you ought to think about stopping it.”

        Mr. Luken has asked the city solicitor to draft a stronger ordinance.

        Cincinnati's ordinance bans panhandling after 8 p.m., or near automated teller machines and storefronts.

        But the law also requires police to issue warnings before making arrests.

        The effect: In the past 18 months, police officers have written just six citations for panhandling, said Councilman Pat DeWine.

        Mr. Luken wasn't the only one to lash out at the homeless coalition Tuesday. Councilman Jim Tarbell took the opportunity to lecture Ms. Beck about the failures of American social policies.

        “The majority of these vendor episodes are confrontational, and they are aggressive. As often as not, there is liquor on their breath.”

        City Council also heard from dozens of downtown business owners, who said the millions that City Council has invested in subsidies to downtown department stores will be for naught if suburban shoppers are fearful of their safety.


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