Center City Commission pitches aggressive anti-panhandling plan

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A group of Memphis downtowners is backing a new plan to fight aggressive panhandling that includes a change to how people buy beer.

After carrying out a two and a half year study, members of the Center City Commission pitched a plan to downtown Memphis business owners Tuesday that would add more teeth to an aggressive panhandling ordinance.

"We actively support the mayor's initiative on the homeless side," said Larry Bloom, manager of public safety for the City Center Commission. "This is strictly the aggressive pan handling."

Terry Woodward, who runs the Downtown Neighborhood Association, is no stranger to aggressive panhandling, after a man chased her two friends, including a tourist, and four children.

"A man had to stop his car and tell him to leave us alone," Woodward said. "This man was very aggressive, scared the kids half to death, and the woman who was a tourist said she'd never seen anything like it before."

Bloom told Woodward and downtown business owners Tuesday that the Commission is proposing two ordinances to the Memphis City Council.

One would ban panhandling in parts of the city.

"And within that zone, set up specific sites where people can legally panhandle," Bloom said.

Specific sites would be set up because panhandling is a First Amendment right.  Outside the restricted zone, the commission is asking for 25 foot distance restrictions at bus and trolley stops.

Bloom said most panhandlers are not homeless, have a significant criminal history, and often drink publicly.  That brought Bloom to the other, more controversial ordinance.

"Restrict the sale of single beers, because we've tied the sale of single beers with the disorder problems downtown," he said.

Critics say panhandlers may have trouble affording a six-pack, but they do buy one beer at a time.

"Not only does it affect the perception of safety, it also affects the economics of downtown," Bloom said.

Beale Street would not be affected, because establishments there sell to patrons inside their bars.

The Downtown Neighborhood Association Board voted to support of the two ordinances.  They go before the Memphis City Council on February 23rd.

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