Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Council debates panhandling law

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Which is the better way to curb downtown panhandling: spending $50,000 on a social worker to address the "root causes" of street begging, or requiring panhandlers to get a license?

That was the debate Monday night as City Council considered ways to curb aggressive begging and thus help office workers, shoppers and baseball fans feel more comfortable downtown.

The proposal by Councilmen David Crowley and Pat DeWine has both components - a get-tough registration ordinance and a softer social service program.

But Mayor Charlie Luken made clear Monday he doesn't like the idea of spending $50,000 on a downtown social worker when the city already spends millions on social services in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

"It's time to get serious about coming down hard on this behavior," he said.

"We act in these discussions as if people who engage in panhandling are somehow trying to deal with the issues of poverty and homelessness. Most social workers will tell you - and they've admitted it in these chambers - that most of the time, the panhandling that is going on is to obtain alcohol or drugs."

Luken also used the occasion to restate his criticism of Over-the-Rhine social service agencies - the Drop Inn Center among them - that "aren't giving us the cooperation we deserve" in dealing with aggressive panhandling.

Councilwoman Y. Laketa Cole has problems with the ordinance, too. She questions whether the registration scheme will work.

"I'm just really having a hard time understanding how you're going to expect a panhandler to one, register, and two, be photographed?" And she asked where the Police Department would mail the registration cards if most panhandlers are homeless.

The ordinance would require panhandlers to register - free - at the Cincinnati Health Department's Elm Street Clinic.

The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless isn't crazy about the proposal, either. But executive director Georgine Getty said the coalition could live with the proposal after council members made compromises to make the registration process less intrusive and "address the root causes of homelessness."

The proposal appears to have the support of at least five of the nine council members, with a final vote coming Wednesday.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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