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February 23. 2014 7:27PM

Panhandling ordinances

Panhandlers face tough times under Rochester ordinances


After about 15 minutes, Dave Gordon, who is homeless, was asked to leave the Lilac Mall property on Route 125 in Rochester Friday afternoon. Afterward, he left, empty handed, to find a place to warm up. (John Quinn Photo)

ROCHESTER — Although he had not heard that the city had instituted or recently repealed a panhandling ordinance, at least one homeless man isn’t letting rough times bring him down too much.

Dave Gordon, who said he’s “bouncing around from couch to couch,” didn’t have much success holding a cardboard sign asking area residents for spare change Friday afternoon at the egress of the Lilac Mall on Milton Road, Route 125.

After about 15 minutes, a mall security guard told him to leave the property.

“My attitude is: I’m not drunk, not harassing anyone,” Gordon said. “I’m not bothering people, and if they’re nice, they give you a dollar.”

Gordon said he had more luck the day before.

“I got $10, two burgers and a cup of coffee,” Gordon said before he walked back to the downtown in search of a place to warm up after being out in the cold, rainy weather.

Gordon, who was recently released from prison for witness tampering, said he makes the best of his situation. He added he spends mornings hoping to find work at Labor Ready and takes to the streets in the afternoon.

As for panhandling ordinances, Gordon said he’s heard that drivers and passengers can’t pass items from their vehicles to people on the medians or on the side of the roads of Concord.

City Manager Dan Fitzgerald said Rochester officials are considering a similar measure after repealing a panhandling ordinance, implemented in the summer, on Tuesday night.

Fitzgerald said the City Council read the proposed ordinance for the first time Tuesday and referred the matter to the Codes and Ordinance Committee, which is scheduled to next meet March 6.

“It wasn’t a big deal — it was pretty straight forward,” Fitzgerald said, referring to this week’s council special meeting.

In December, the N.H. Civil Liberties Union threatened to file suit against the city, arguing that the panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional because it prevents the peaceful expression of free speech.

“The NHCLU commends the city’s decision to repeal the anti-panhandling ordinance and its thoughtful consideration as to how the ordinance negatively impacted the free speech rights of New Hampshire’s poorest citizens,” according to Gilles Bissonnette, staff attorney for the organization.

“The NHCLU represents an economically disadvantaged individual who was directly impacted by the ordinance. Our client is relieved with the city’s decision,” Bissonnette said in an e-mail.

Bissonnette said the NHCLU is willing to meet and collaborate with local officials to help address concerns about safety in the city.

For more information, visit www.rochesternh.net or nhclu.org.

jquinn@newstote.com


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