Portland experiences explosion of panhandling

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – It is one of the most talked about issues in Portland right now. The explosion of panhandling across the city.

Tomorrow a city council committee will take up a proposal that will address the issue, at least in part. It would keep people off median strips dividing city streets. Other than it appears there’s little else city officials can do legally to reduce the number.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck says someone standing on the side of the road with a side is protected under the first amendment. He says police can only take action if those individuals become aggressive or start harassing people. As long as they behave, there’s nothing preventing them from getting out there with their signs. His concern is for their safety, especially when their standing on the median strips, and the safety of motorists pulling over to hand them money. The chief supports the ban on loitering on median strips.

“You can really see there’s been an explosion of activity at these median strips and when I look at it I see a tragedy waiting to happen”, said Chief Sauschuck.

There is growing concern from the business community that the first thing people see when they enter the city is someone panhandling. They are getting ready to launch a campaign urging people to donate to programs that help the poor as a way to limit the need for panhandling.

Have a Heart, Give Smart is a program being used in several cities. Money generated through it goes towards organizations and services that help the needy. Receptacles are set up in businesses to collect donations or people can give directly to the organizations that sign on to the program. The idea being If people give to the program instead of panhandlers there will be less money to be made out on the streets.

“We don’t want to be harsh in the message, but its implied in the message that folks who are inclined to give and there are lots of us intown who are, have better places to put the money. Where we know all the money will go to good use to help these folks who are down on their luck”, said Chris O’Neil of the Greater Portland Regional Chambers of Commerce.

O’Neill says communities that have this program have seen a significant reduction in the number of panhandlers. The program is expected to be launched in Portland within the next few weeks.