Panhandling citations in Springfield are being issued at a faster rate than last year, but a local activist wants the city to back off.
Don Norton, an advocate for the homeless, says the city’s ban on panhandling in the downtown area violates their rights.
During Tuesday’s Springfield city council meeting, Norton, representing Homeless United for Change, says he panhandles to make ends meet. And though he’s not homeless now he could soon find himself back on the streets this winter.
Norton says there are many reasons for people to panhandle and the city should be able to address at least one of those needs. He acknowledges that there are organizations that have beds and services but they are severely limited. He also says he’s been harassed by police for panhandling and even cited by the city.
Springfield Aldermen Kris Theilen says that he understands the plight, but there are aggressive panhandlers downtown that must be dealt with.
Norton says the Supreme Court has ruled that peaceful panhandling is protected by the first amendment and that city's can ban panhandling in select areas but not city wide. The city’s ordinance does not ban panhandling outright, but it does make the downtown off limits to panhandlers.
Aldermen Frank Edwards and Doris Turner both said they would like to form a subcommittee to work with Springfield’s homeless population to find some resolve.
The State Journal-Register reports that a new push against downtown panhandling has led to more citations being written in the first half of this year than were written during all of 2011.