Augusta Police Chief staged panhandling protest

AUGUSTA, Maine (NECN) — The police chief in Augusta took a day off work last Friday to stage a one man protest against panhandling in his city.

Chief Robert Gregoire said, based on his department’s interactions with many panhandlers, he believes the public’s donations are often used to buy drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

He held up a cardboard sign on Western Avenue that asked motorists to consider making charitable contributions to well-known charities instead of panhandlers.

“If you give $5 dollars to a panhandler and you give that same $5 to a soup kitchen, a food pantry, or the Salvation Army, the charity could make 10-15 meals with the same money.” Gregoire said.

But the advocacy group Homeless Voices For Justice took issue with the police chief’s methods and message.

“It just plays into the prejudices against poor people,” lamented Dee Clarke.

“If he’s concerned about substance abuse, then do something about it by helping to set up real recovery centers,” she said.

And Jim Devine, who used to be homeless, said those one-on-one interactions are important for people in need.

“You make eye contact and say hello to the person and you feel a little less invisible,” he said.