Concerns about loitering, panhandling
By Stephanie Johns
Kathi Russell of the Madison Tea Room & Garden shared her concerns about loiterers and panhandlers during the recent meeting of the Downtown Madison Retail Committee.
Russell said that one man has visited her store several times and that the last time he visited, he asked for money, which disrupted the atmosphere she had created. She added that she has been approached while sitting in her car on Washington Street and asked for money.
Someone has defecated behind her building. Another time she has seen someone sleeping back there and, yet another time, someone hung his laundry there.
“There are lots of different incidents,” she said. “If you combine them, that’s a problem.”
She added that these incidents are not “harmless.”
“It needs to be addressed,” she said, adding that she is willing to hang a sign in her business indicating that the business is open but, due to panhandlers, the door is locked and customers should knock.
Russell asked whether or not the Madison Police Department has enough officers. The group consensus was that the city has plenty of officers.
Madison Police Officer Jeremy Hoffman said that the man in the store has been identified. He added that right now the police department does not have any statistical data to show a trend. He noted that the city has a trespass ordinance that would allow the police department to issue a verbal or written notice to trespassers.
“You can ban them from your property,” he said. “But right now we don’t have data to show this is a problem.”
Hoffman does not recommend giving loiterers or panhandlers money. Instead, call the police at 706-342-1200.
“We have sufficient laws and ordinances to handle this,” he said. “We just need (shopkeepers) to notify us.”
Sheri Clark, co-owner of the Madison Gift Mart and Café, said that she enjoys it when people sit on the city bench outside her place of business.
“I don’t take offense at all,” she said. “They never interfere with business.”
Annie Jones of Madison Markets said that there are two or three people who have told her they are hungry and asked for money. She noted, though, that this happens only infrequently, every two years or so.
Ginger Gardener of Town and Country said that she has seen a couple of teenage girls lying face-down on the stage. Another time she saw a man lying unmoving and called the police.
“I’m not concerned about those sleeping on the swings or the bench,” she said. “I’m worried about those sleeping in odd places.”
She added that she has never felt threatened. Gardener then asked about people coming into the shops and selling sports tickets or vacation trips. City Manager David Nunn said the city has a peddler’s ordinance that requires peddlers to pay $100 a year.
Nunn said that he knows of a man who slept in the restrooms in the park. He said that the city can deal with unwelcome visitors but that it is impractical to deal with infrequent panhandling.
“I don’t see a pervasive problem,” he said.
Joe Houston of Creative Mark agreed that the problem is “infrequent.” He added that he thinks it is a “moral responsibility” to call the police about unmoving people as there might be a medical issue.
Nunn said that in fact he knew of a situation in which bystanders thought someone was sleeping but when approached, the person had a medical condition that needed immediate attention.
Faye Craft of ChopHouse said she has been here almost 20 years and does not see that it’s getting any worse.
Jones said that people sitting on the park benches “add character.”
Nunn said that’s what makes Madison unique.
Houston asked about holiday decorations and recommended that the downtown shop keepers decorate to increase their visibility.
Main Street Director Ann Huff said that there are 25 stores that do not have holiday lights on them.
Nunn pointed out that shop keepers must pay to have the lights installed but then the city pays to maintain them.
“A good bit of money goes into maintaining what we’ve got now,” he said.
Houston said with a little effort and some money, they can really dress up the town.
Gardener said that those decorating for the holidays may need to start a fund.
Printed in the October 11, 2012