WORCESTER (CBS) – Two new panhandling ordinances went into effect Wednesday in Worcester.
One, called the ‘Pedestrian Safety Ordinance’, makes it illegal to stand in a median or step into traffic and solicit money.
“We’ve had ongoing challenges with panhandling,” City Manager Michael O’Brien said. “We see it obviously with our big heart that we want to do our very best for those who find themselves in our right of ways trying to collect money for basic life services.” He says it’s about their safety and that of others passing by. “We put this ordinance together. We believe it will stand the test of legal challenge we think it is in the best interest of everybody to make sure that our streets are for vehicular movement,” O’Brien explained.
For at least the next few weeks, Worcester Police will hand out cards detailing the changes and where the panhandlers can find assistance. “We’re going to try to be patient with them and try to give them every opportunity that we can to let them know what they can and cannot do,” said Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst.
“We’ll give them every opportunity to move on and if they refuse to do so then we’ll have to take police action,” he added. Officers can write a citation with a $50 dollar fine. Violators may also receive community service if a judge decides that is proper punishment.
In downtown Worcester, Adam Lavalle was standing in a median, asking for money. He was unaware of the changes. “I stay on the median I walk straight,” he said. “I don’t knock on windows. I don’t bother people. If they open the window great, if not I keep moving forward.” He thinks the ordinance is unfair, especially the potential fine. “I think that is totally unfair to hand a homeless person who doesn’t even have anything… you know to hand them a citation just trying to make a few bucks just to eat for the day is wrong,” Lavelle said.
City Councilor Joe O’Brien voted against the measure. He didn’t think it was necessary. “Not only do I think this will not solve the problem it is supposed to solve but also will penalize youth organizations and the fire department which does its MDA drive. We’re actually not going to be allowed to do those tag days which allow them to get money,” he said. That part of this proved controversial. Still, he says his colleagues on the council agreed efforts to reach out to the homeless, who often panhandle, need to be redoubled. “The answers are to be a little more aggressive with outreach and to get people into programs and services and off these street corners,” he added.
The ‘Pedestrian Safety Ordinance” is one of two ordinances the council approved Tuesday night. The second deals with aggressive panhandling, placing clearer limitations like no soliciting within 20 feet of a cash machine. Adam Lavalle says he lets passers-by decide if they want to give. He’ll follow the rules and is hopeful his situation gets better. “I don’t step out in the traffic I wait until cars pull up and take it from there I believe safety is absolutely number one,” he said.