May 25, 2013

Panhandling a growing concern in Portland

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Alison Prior, 29, of Portland, receives change from a passerby while she panhandles at the corner of Preble Street and Marginal Way on Friday, May 24, 2013. Prior says she panhandles for extra money while she and her boyfriend look for an apartment.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Don Dietz, 48, panhandles for change in the median at the corner of Franklin Street and Marginal Way on Friday, May 24, 2013.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

The super-jaywalking ordinance respects people's First Amendment rights to panhandle, Moore said.

"We're not trying to focus on the content of anyone's panhandling expressions," Moore said. "We just say: It is not safe to be in the same piece of pavement as the cars going by."

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city's proposed ban is similar in that it is a public safety issue and nothing else.

The proposal would not limit panhandling elsewhere in the city, such as on sidewalks.

"This has nothing to do with panhandling. It has everything to do with safety," Brennan said.

Last time, the proposal was drafted at the request of the Police Department and unanimously endorsed by the council's public safety committee.

But it was voted down by the full council in a 6-3 vote, after spirited opposition from homeless advocates and the ACLU of Maine. Brennan, Suslovic and Councilor John Coyne voted in support.

Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center, which opposed the previous effort, declined to comment on the proposed ban until he learned more about it.

As public sentiment changes, councilors may follow suit.

"I can't speak for other councilors but I have definitely softened my position," Mavodones said.

City Councilor David Marshall voted last year for the ban at the committee level but opposed it when it came to the council. Marshall said he is hearing from a wider range of people concerned about the activity.

"I think it's an important issue for us to discuss," Marshall said. "I was divided on the issue before and I continue to be divided about it now."

Perched on another median at Marginal Way and Franklin Street, Don Dietz, 48, leaned against a road sign, his cardboard placard pleading for help.

He said if the city passes the median ordinance, people with nowhere else to turn may resort to petty crime to get by.

"None of us like it," Dietz said. "None of us want to stand out here. But it's our only way of income right now."

As the city tries to address the safety of its intersections, business leaders are forming a coalition to educate people about the best way to help those in need, said Chris O'Neil, the Portland Community Chamber's liaison to City Hall.

"By making it easier to give money to bona fide programs, we can decrease the demand for direct panhandling," O'Neil said.

O'Neil said there are several strategies under consideration, including a multimedia campaign.

Downtown business owners may somehow facilitate the collection of donations for service providers.

Also, the city may be willing to donate a dozen parking meters to be painted and placed around town to raise awareness of responsible giving, O'Neil said.

Jan Beitzer, executive director of the Portland Downtown District, said it was too soon to say what the effort would look like. But she pointed to the

"Have a Heart, Give Smart" campaigns in other cities as being a successful model.

O'Neil said he would like to see the education campaign be finalized and under way early this summer.

-- Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Alison Prior, 29, of Portland, panhandles for change at the corner of Preble Street and Marginal Way on Friday, May 24, 2013. Prior says she panhandles for extra money while she and her boyfriend look for an apartment.

Gabe Souza


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