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Manchester wants to send a message: Don’t give to panhandlers

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 07. 2017 2:51PM

MANCHESTER - Aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the city solicitor work with the police department to develop signs to be placed around Manchester asking people to refrain from giving money to panhandlers.

“I think there's no question that anyone who lives in the city of Manchester knows we need to take care of the panhandling situation that's here,” said Mayor Ted Gatsas. “It's probably the number-one thing that people are absolutely annoyed with.”

“Those signs they have up north, asking people not to feed the bears,” said Alderman At Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur. “There should be signs, right where they're standing, saying ‘Please don't feed the panhandlers.'”

Gatsas gave aldermen a letter from Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard stating traffic islands are located within the right-of-way - allowing city police to enforce a 2015 city ordinance that prohibits the exchange of items between a motorist and anyone stepping into the road.

“Traffic islands and medians are utilized to control the flow of vehicular traffic and to separate vehicles along a roadway,” writes Sheppard. “Whereas, the islands are located within the roadway rights-of-way, they are managed and maintained by the Department of Public Works.”

“We should be able to enforce it,” said Gatsas.

Police Chief Nick Willard backed away from any get-tough approach to panhandling on Tuesday, writing that the problem is more than just a law enforcement issue.

In a two page letter addressed to community members, Willard encouraged people to not give to panhandlers and direct their donations toward social service agencies such as food pantries or recovery centers. He also wrote about the balance between constitutional liberties and public safety.

“I do not think panhandling is just a law enforcement issue,” Willard wrote.

Lawyers representing civil libertarians and the poor filed suit against the city in January 2016, challenging the police department's use of the state's disorderly conduct law to charge panhandlers holding signs on city sidewalks and asking motorists for money.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by the New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

The lawsuit disclosed memos exchanged between police officials and the city's legal department over what laws could be used against panhandlers. Police were using the state's disorderly conduct law and not the 2015 city ordinance.

“The people of Manchester have to say no,” said Gatsas. “They think it's helping out and it's not. They just go to the next corner.”

Alderman At Large Dan O'Neil told a story about a police officer who sent a friend who owns a construction outfit to drive by a panhandler and offer him a job that would pay $15 an hour. The man refused, saying he made more panhandling.

“This is a very rewarding business for some of them,” said O'Neil.

Aldermen voted unanimously to direct City Solicitor Tom Clark to work with Police Chief Nick Willard to determine anti-panhandling language for signs, and the best locations to install the signs.

Aldermen supported the idea of placing the signs in locations frequented by panhandlers.

Politics Manchester