Memphis council votes to ban panhandling in certain areas downtown

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - After weeks of debate, the Memphis City Council decided Tuesday to ban panhandling in certain zones downtown.

Tuesday's debate was heated even outside City Hall.

"Talking about getting tough on panhandling may be popular, but it is not practical fiscally, and it's not effective," said Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

Tuesday afternoon, Watkins and other protestors stood outside City Hall to show their objection to the ordinance.

The ordinance goes into effect in two weeks.  When it does it will ban begging at trolley stops, business fronts, and ATM's. But Mid-South Peace and Justice Center members believe the zones will cause panhandlers to move to lower income neighborhoods near downtown.  They say treatment is the answer.
The Center City Commission helped sponsor the ordinance. Many downtown business proponents say the panhandling problem is scaring people away from downtown.

"There are times I'm afraid to get out of my car, and this is in a parking lot," said Carol Lott, President of the South Main Association.

Lott believes if tourists and conventions get scared off from downtown, whole city will suffer.

"We have people who come here every day who will never come back because someone asks them for money more than once, goes buys a beer, gets intoxicated in our public places, and goes panhandle someone again," she said.

Some city council members were concerned the ban would cause panhandlers to move to other areas of the city.

"We have had tremendous success in displacing crime in this community, but don't be confused it's moving other places as well," council member Shea Flinn said.

The displacement theory didn't convince council member Jim Strickland.

"It does not displace crime into other areas of town, New York has shown that to be true," Strickland said.

Council member Janis Fullilove said treatment for panhandlers is the real answer.

"What person in their right mind does not want a hard day's work, but wants to sit on a corner, drink a 40 ounce, beg people all day and all night, and do that again, and again, and again?" Fullilove said.

The city council had two issues to decide on.

One was a resolution would cause the city to research how to best address the substance abuse and mental problems associated with panhandling.

The other issue was the contentious ordinance that would make aggressive panhandling in certain areas downtown a misdemeanor.

"We have to start somewhere," council member Barbara Swearengen-Ware said.

In the end that's what the city council decided to do by passing both items.

Copyright 2010 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.