Non-profit renews efforts to tackle panhandling downtown

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - There is a renewed effort to tackle panhandling in downtown Indianapolis.

The non-profit organization Downtown Indy is handing out informational cards to downtown businesses this week so they can begin educating visitors about panhandling laws and encourage them to give to social services instead.

While panhandling - within limits - is not illegal in Indianapolis, many say it is hurting business and needs to be dealt with.

Downtown Indy has also asked Horizon House to conduct a census survey on how many panhandlers exist in the downtown area and who is homeless. That study should be complete by the end of October.

"Panhandling and homelessness is not the same thing.," said Bob Schultz, of Downtown Indy. "There are some who panhandle who are homeless. So it’s a matter of getting an accurate count by those who know this community the best."

Some information on the card includes:

  • Panhandling is a protected form of free speech
  • Panhandling in Indianapolis is solicitation made by a vocal request
  • Panhandling is illegal after sunset or before sunrise
  • Panhandling is illegal in or at a sidewalk cafe or within 20 feet of an ATM
  • Panhandling is illegal is it occurs in an aggressive nature

Doug Stephenson, owner of Downtown Comics, said he sees panhandlers outside his store all the time and it drives away foot traffic. While he likes Downtown Indy's idea of handing out informational cards, he'd also like to see signs and posters put up around town with the same information. He thinks both visitors and locals need to know there are other options to help.

"We're not trying to run anybody off," explained Stephenson. "We just can't handle being inundated with two, three people walking in front of our stores trying to get money off of other people."

Schultz believes change can only occur if everyone works together and it will take place over time.

"The increase in panhandling is only going to continue if we keep feeding the panhandlers cups when it's not giving them the immediate and long terms solutions that the social service community is prepared to handle," said Schultz. "We’re very aware that there are individuals who watch the convention calendar, who identify the work flow of individual companies down here, when people are coming and going and set their calendars appropriately to sit on a corner and seek free-will contributions. And those people need to move on."

People who wish to do something to help those in need downtown can support the Blended Street Outreach Teams by donating to the 'Know Outlets' campaign.