Indianapolis City-County Council passes new panhandling ordinance

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After being put on the back burner since last spring, a City-County Council committee has passed a new panhandling ordinance.

The ordinance, which was approved on a 5-2 vote, doesn't eliminate panhandling downtown as the mayor initially wanted, but it does place further restrictions on where it can occur.

Read the panhandling ordinance

As Eyewitness News first reported last month, the new law is modeled after San Antonio's 50-foot rule. It bans passive solicitation within 50 feet of a marked crosswalk, an ATM, a bank or check cashing business entrance/exit, parking meters and pay stations, a public parking garage or parking lot pay station, the entrance/exit of a restaurant or the service area of an outdoor café, in a bus, at a bus station or at a bus stop, a trail or underpass and a charitable donation box.

Fred Correll, who solicits on the west side of Illinois Street, just north of Maryland, wouldn't be affected because he's not close enough to any of those things, but he still opposes the changes.

"They're trying to restrict us from making a little money so we can eat or go see a movie or something. I don't think it's right," he said.

But Republican Councilor Jeff Miller said, "What we're really looking at is where the public feels vulnerable. It's a public safety issue only and it's narrowly tailored around that."

Miller co-authored the ordinance along with Democrat Vop Osili after they took a trip to San Antonio and Raleigh, North Carolina to see how those cities address the issue.

Miller believes the 50-foot rule makes enforcement a lot easier.

"We've laid out more clearly where you're supposed to (solicit) and where you're not, so we believe police will be more comfortable going in and addressing these issues as they arise."

He notes it's not just panhandlers who would have to abide, but street performers and bell ringers, or "all forms of solicitation."

So where can panhandlers be and stay within the law? For starters, one of the city's best-known and most popular tourist destinations. Miller said much of Monument Circle falls outside the 50-foot rule.

One man, who can be seen almost daily at Meridian and south side of the Circle, would only have to move across the street to the Circle or further down the sidewalk to be within the law. (Right now, he's within 50 feet of both a crosswalk and a restaurant entrance.)

Fred Strader, who solicits near the entrance of Circle Center Mall would also be in violation of the new ordinance, as he's within 50 feet of a parking meter.

Strader said he'd be happy to move to the Circle.

"That's where most people are going to be during winter because of the Christmas tree down there," Strader said.

Asked if he was worried that the Circle might become the center of panhandling downtown, Miller said, "It's entirely possible we'll see a lot of folks grouping there, but I think there may also be many fights over premier spots, so actually the problem may take care of itself through the panhandlers."

The ordinance also changes the hours that panhandling is allowed from sunrise to sunset, to 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Miller said that, too, would make enforcement easier.

It's something Correll doesn't like.

"That's when you start making money. I'm usually out here until 8:30 or 9" at night, he said.

The ordinance now heads to the full council December 9th.

Mayoral Spokesman Marc Lotter said the mayor is hopeful it will pass. So is Chris Gahl with Visit Indy. Gahl said over the last two years, 10 groups that overlooked Indianapolis for meetings cited panhandling as one of the top 2-3 concerns they had.

Gahl said, "we market ourselves as a clean, safe and affordable city and we are," but he noted panhandling can change that perception.