Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mayor Reed plans to get tougher with panhandlers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2010 at 12:32 AM

click to enlarge Panhandling may soon be even less welcome downtown.
  • Panhandling may soon be even less welcome downtown.

He doesn't want to call it a "crackdown," but that's what it sounds like — and it'll come as welcome news to most folks who live or work downtown.

At Kasim Reed's first press conference as mayor yesterday, he announced — after introducing interim Police Chief George Turner and the new APD structure — that he plans to vigorously enforce the city's existing panhandling laws. The ATL's many panhandlers, he says, are the number two complaint among visitors and a serious drag on downtown's convention-based economy. (What's the No. 1 complaint, you ask? That would be our city's sucky nightlife.)

As you may recall, Mayor Franklin spearheaded the creation of a downtown "no-panhandling zone," but the city has proved gun-shy about enforcement, possibly because of vocal criticism from homeless advocates.

Reed is quick to defend his approach as compassionate — not to professional beggars, but to actual homeless people and low-income workers. If rampant panhandling causes downtown hotels and restaurants to lose business, it'll be the line cooks and hotel maids and maintenance men who suffer when their jobs are cut, he said Tuesday.

"I separate homelessness and panhandling," he explained, pointing out that Atlanta offers homeless treatment services through its Gateway Center.

Then he delivered a tough sound bite: "Walking up and asking people for money in the city of Atlanta is not OK."

We'll see how this plays out.

In related news, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has apparently gotten a foreclosure reprieve on its mammoth shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets in Midtown. I'd reported back in November that the building was about to be sold on the courthouse steps to satisfy delinquent debts to two charitable lenders.

I'm now told the Task Force has been given another three months to come up with the money owed. Meanwhile, its quixotic lawsuit against City Hall for conspiring to separate the shelter from its HUD-grant teat has been transferred to federal court, where the first hearing is still months away.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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