Tenn. -- In recent weeks, Clarksville officials have received complaints about an increased presence of panhandlers on public rights of way in the City. Citizens say panhandlers congregate around highway exits and at intersections and often leave trash and debris creating a negative image of the community.
In response, the City is working to build a coalition of law enforcement, governments, social service agencies and church groups to promote a broad campaign to mitigate panhandling and attack the real problems of need and homelessness.
The program, under the working title of “Real Change, Not Spare Change,” will urge citizens to refrain from making direct donations to panhandlers. Instead, the campaign encourages residents to contribute to agencies that provide food for people in need and to agencies whose mission is to provide services to homeless individuals and families.
“Clarksville is a compassionate community, and we have a number of well-managed, successful agencies that are actively fighting homelessness and providing food for those in need,” Mayor Kim McMillan said. “With ‘Real Change, Not Spare Change’ we are suggesting that instead of handing money to panhandlers -- who may or may not be homeless -- we should donate to our local non-profits who will use these resources to attack the real problems people face.”
The Real Change campaign is being designed by the City’s Office of Housing and Community Development with the help of the local United Way and member agencies. Leaders are working on final details and expect to roll out the program in July.
“Handing cash to a panhandler is at best a temporary fix,” Mayor McMillan said. “At worst, it’s supporting a fraudulent enterprise for someone who’s not really in need. A ‘spare change’ transaction doesn’t fight the real problem, and as long as people give money to panhandlers, the problem will persist or even grow. With ‘Real Change’ we want to truly help people, and improve our community by encouraging donations to legitimate programs that can make a difference and help solve homelessness and hunger.”
CODE ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS
On the enforcement front, the City of Clarksville has several ordinances that apply to roadside solicitation.
Citizens should be aware that, under rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution, it’s legal for a person to stand on the sidewalk or alongside a public street. It’s also legal to display a sign proclaiming poverty and a need for money.
But City officials do have law enforcement tools that relate to public safety and peddling and regulate solicitation on public roadsides and public property.
The so-called Panhandler Ordinance was approved by the City Council last year and prohibits a person from entering the roadway to exchange goods or money with someone in a vehicle.
The ordinance says. “No person shall stand on or otherwise occupy any portion of the public right-of-way, including any public street, median, alley or sidewalk for the purpose of soliciting or accepting a donation of money or any other item from the occupant of any vehicle while the vehicle is on a public street being used by, or open to use by, vehicular traffic.”
The ordinance also tackles the problem of potential distraction of motorists. It says, “No person shall, by means of a sign or other device of any kind, use or occupy any portion of the public right-of-way, including any public street, median, alley or sidewalk, to attempt to alert, or for the purpose of attracting the attention of, the driver of a motor vehicle that is on a public street being used by, or open to use by, vehicular traffic, to any commercial activity.
Here is a link to the full ordinance: https://bit.ly/2MvU7qW
The so-called Peddler’s Ordinance requires anyone who sells goods or service in a public space to acquire a Peddler’s permit and follow certain rules. The ordinance says, in part, “No peddler shall have any exclusive right to any location in the public streets, nor shall any peddler be permitted a stationary location, nor shall he be permitted to operate in any congested area where his operations might impede or inconvenience the public.”
Here is a link to the full ordinance: https://bit.ly/2IEkF71
City police can write a citation if they see a violation of the Panhandler or Peddler ordinances or other applicable City codes. A City citation is a civil violation handled in City Court and carries a maximum penalty of $50. A violation of the Peddler’s Ordinance can result in revocation of the peddler’s license.