Downtown Gainesville patrons may see fewer panhandlers if an ordinance addressing the issue makes its way through city hall. Then again, some don’t see those panhandlers now.
During the last Gainesville City Council work session, council members broached the subject of an ordinance prohibiting panhandling downtown, with some seeing it as a proactive way to deal with a problem that could grow.
“I’ve had more than one complaint about people coming up to people downtown and asking them for money,” Mayor Danny Dunagan Jr. said. “It’s something we need to look at, because if it gets worse or it keeps on happening, we need to have an ordinance on the books so that we can handle it.”
Dunagan said though some council members have not received the complaints, multiple residents have called him.
City staff will look into the matter, including the Gainesville Police Department, and recommend a possible solution to the council.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of people that hang around downtown — a lot of homeless — and I really feel for them, but also it’s very unnerving for you and your family to be walking around shopping or at a restaurant and someone to come up and ask for money,” said Dunagan. “It’s my feeling that we need to get an ordinance on the books so we can enforce it if it does get worse.”
Some council members, however, feel an ordinance would be addressing a problem that does not currently exist.
“I didn’t see it as being a problem in Gainesville,” Councilman George Wangemann said. “It’s certainly a problem in bigger cities. I’ve been to Atlanta not too long ago and it’s certainly a problem down there, but we don’t have nearly the magnitude of a problem of Atlanta or any large city across America has just because of numbers.”
Wangemann said he’s had more people come to his house and ask for money than he’s seen downtown.
He said he’d be in support of an ordinance, though, if downtown patrons thought it was an issue worth addressing.
“If I felt it was a major problem and many of our citizens ask that we put one into place, I would certainly consider that,” Wangemann said. “But otherwise, I just don’t see a need for one right now.”
Dunagan said an ordinance could be in the books by the end of the year or at the beginning of next year, if the council votes to pass one.