Flowery Branch is cracking down on “aggressive” panhandling and people regularly camping out in public places, such as streets and sidewalks.
City Council gave its first OK Thursday night to an ordinance that prevents the activity, which has been picking up recently, particularly around the Stonebridge Village shopping center off Spout Springs and Hog Mountain roads.
The ordinance primarily targets repeat offenders, Police Chief David Spillers said.
“If it’s a one-time thing, we’re going to actively pursue a homeless shelter and three churches here that run food banks — we make constant referrals to those,” he said. “We would be more than happy to take somebody to Gainesville to a homeless shelter.”
Spillers referred to one incident where a man staying next to The Home Depot worked full-time at the home improvement retailer in Stonebridge.
“So, he was just making a choice,” he said.
Spurring the ordinance was an increase in calls from residents and business owners about people begging for money and sleeping in public places.
“Our solicitation ordinance doesn’t address panhandling … so this will take care of that,” City Clerk Melissa McCain said.
But she also said the ordinance doesn’t mean homeless will be arrested on sight.
Police “want to help them, not hurt them,” McCain said.
Councilman Joe Anglin asked if the city’s loitering ordinance could help address the issue.
City Attorney Ron Bennett said no.
“It’s different … in that your intent is to have your stuff (in a particular place) and to hang out and sleep and stay there,” he said.
The ordinance doesn’t affect “a legitimate sales endeavor,” Bennett said. “We have an ordinance that allows you to get a license to sell door to door.”
But “you can have a license and still be an aggressive solicitor, and that would run afoul of this ordinance,” he said.
The ordinance goes before the council for final approval Sept. 17.