Downtown task force says panhandlers are a problem

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If you have ever walked through Acacia Park, or strolled Tejon downtown, you’ve seen them, perhaps even been solicited by them.

Panhandlers, some homeless, some not, hang out at the park day and night. They roam the streets in the downtown area, constantly begging for money or cigarettes. Some are aggressive and threatening, others polite and meek, some clean, some dirty, but to many people they are a nuisance to be avoided.

The concern has not gone unnoticed by members of a group called A Safe Downtown Task Force. The group has met periodically since last year to discuss solutions to the issue.

“As downtown prospers and attracts greater numbers of people during more hours of the day, the perception of individual safety begins to shift… it’s no secret that our streets are home to increasing numbers of panhandlers or that evening pedestrian and vehicle traffic continues through the late evening hours,” the committee said. “The Downtown Partnership is committed to addressing safety issues before they become serious problems.”

The group plans to introduce a proposed ordinance to the city council this fall designed to address panhandling. The proposed ordinance also contains language for a future loitering ordinance. Purpose of the proposals is “to provide law enforcement with the tools necessary to effect a decrease in the number of incidents in these two areas,” the group said.

“Elevating the sense of public safety is definitely a priority,” City Manager and former police chief Lorne Kramer told the Downtown Partnership. The city wants to hire more officers within the next year or two, and is exploring making the downtown area a permanent “beat,” Kramer said.

Accomplishing those objectives, he added, will require a “re-evaluation of the level of service [from emergency services] we’ve come to expect.”

It is a myth that panhandlers are typically members of the homeless population, the group said. It said the most aggressive panhandlers are “professionals” who make a tidy sum working the downtown corridor.

“The Partnership strongly discourages giving money to the panhandlers and recommends directing them to the variety of social services available in the community,” the group reported in its newsletter.

The group is developing a resource card that merchants and individuals can use to direct these individuals off the streets and toward services where they may be served.

Along the same lines, a Good Neighbor Handbook, produced in partnership with the city of Colorado Springs, has been distributed throughout the downtown corridor. The handbook provides information on “who does what” downtown, and provides a handy reference list of contacts for downtown businesses, property owners and tenants. Along with the publication, the Partnership has provided all businesses with an Incident Report Form to complete and return each time there is an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous encounter.

The new Acacia Park Police Service Center is operational and present plans are to staff it with two light-duty officers, along with Neighborhood Watch volunteers staff . The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Eventually bicycle patrols and additional officers may work out of the center as well.

For more information about the Safe Downtown Task Force, contact Helen Upton at 329-1640. For more information about Good Neighbor Handbooks or Incident Report Forms, contact the Downtown Partnership at 886-0088.