Indianapolis city officials pursue strengthened panhandling ordinance

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A bi-partisan group of Indianapolis City-County Councilors is pursuing a strengthened panhandling ordinance in Indianapolis. They claim it is hurting business, specifically convention business downtown.

Visit Indy hosted a trip to San Antonio, TX, and Raleigh, NC, in search of best practices. The group included city officials,  non-profit that addresses the homeless population locally and Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

“I do think folks in the city have concerns about excessive panhandling downtown,” said John Barth, Indianapolis City County Councilor Vice President, (D).

“We have already lost over 10 conventions where panhandling was cited as a concern. That is millions of dollar in visitor spending that wouldn’t be coming to Indy because of this,” said Marc Lotter, Mayor Greg Ballard’s spokesperson.

The mayor first pressed for a tougher panhandling ban, but his proposal was tabled by a city county council committee over concerns that it went too far and created possible constitutional issues.

The ACLU of Indiana has threatened a legal challenge. The group is already representing several individuals who were arrested for so-called aggressive panhandling which is illegal under the current ordinance. It does not cover passive solicitation like shaking a cup of coins or holding a sign on a sidewalk.

They are being told they cannot do this, and that’s a behavior that is protected by the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Indiana Director Ken Falk.

The mayor’s plan would have created a ‘no solicitation zone’ downtown, and restrictions during certain hours everywhere else in Indianapolis. The panhandling ban would have also kept people away from building entrances, parking meters, cross walks, intersections and off-ramps. 

“It’s a racket. Studies have shown that very few of these folks are actually homeless,” said Lotter.

New ideas collected during the out-of-state trip include a 50 foot zone around parking meters, businesses, any anywhere there is a financial exchange being made.

Another city has instituted a free permitting process to create a database and set rules. This element is expected to ease concerns among street performers and non-profits that collect holiday donations.

“Right now we have what is a perception problem from the convention industry, which is a fiscal problem for us,” said Barth.

The expectation is a drafted amendment by the end of the year. Right now, a committee is discussing it.