Councillors propose ban on sitting, lying on city streets and sidewalks in effort to curb panhandling

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A proposal is set to be introduced to the Indianapolis City-County Council which aims to deter panhandling.

The proposal by Minority Leader Michael McQuillen (R-District 4), Councillor Susie Cordi (R-District 18) and others would prevent people from sitting or lying on a city streets or sidewalks between 6 a.m. and midnight, with some exceptions.  McQuillen said it's modeled after regulations in Oklahoma City.

“The Council has a responsibility to promote public safety and commerce in our city.  The panhandling situation downtown is untenable,” said McQuillen.  “It is important that we distinguish between panhandlers and the homeless, however.  This proposal is our way of working towards that goal and finding a bi-partisan solution.”

The proposal will be introduced at a Council meeting on Sept. 24.

“Monument Circle and the Mile Square need to be enjoyable places for residents and visitors to walk, do business, and see the city.  The panhandling problems we are seeing downtown do not promote safety or commerce," said Cordi.

McQuillen says the Council has worked hard to provide support for the 1,600 homeless individuals in Marion County.

“We must continue to provide opportunities to assist our homeless neighbors and get them to shelters and other places where they can get on the road to recovery,” he said.

But others have concerns about the proposal's impact. The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention said it can't support the ordinance as is.

"This ordinance will effectively criminalize homelessness in a way that will put the most vulnerable citizens in the city at more risk," CHIP interim executive director Caleb Sutton said.

Sutton said the ordinance doesn't address the need for housing and shelter, which he said there is not enough. Sutton said there are more than 1,500 people on a wait list for housing, and since April seven homeless camps were closed.

"It's essential we focus on solutions and so the solution to this is housing and services," Sutton said.

The Wheeler Mission's Shelter for Men said it expects to see more people in need of services should the ordinance pass, and is prepared for that.

"We understand the call for the ordinance, we don't agree in the fact that if it were to pass in some way it vilifies and criminalizes the homeless or individuals experiencing homelessness," shelter director William Bumphus said.

Councilor McQuillen said they are looking to partner with churches and other faith-based organizations for more space.

The communications director for Mayor Joe Hogsett's office, Taylor Schaffer, released this statement:

The success of our city is directly tied to the success of our downtown, and we are always willing to work with public leaders and private partners to explore thoughtful policies that could improve the vibrancy of our downtown. This language will be reviewed by the Office of Corporation Counsel and we will be sitting down with Minority Leader McQuillen to discuss his proposal in the coming weeks. It is our hope that through community conversation and collaboration we can develop solutions that address legitimate public safety concerns while ensuring downtown Indianapolis continues to be a place that welcomes all.

These are current exceptions listed in the ordinance:

  • Sitting or lying down on the surface of a public right-of-way due to a medical emergency;
  • Using a wheelchair, walker, or similar device as the result of a disability;
  • Operating or patronizing a commercial establishment conducted in the public right-of-way pursuant to a use permit;
  • Participating in or attending a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration, meeting, or similar event conducted in the public right-of-way pursuant to and in compliance with a street use or other applicable permit;
  • Sitting on a fixed chair or bench designed primarily for the purpose of sitting, located on the surface of a public right-of-way, supplied by a public agency or by the abutting private property owner;
  • Sitting in line for goods or services unless the person or person's possessions impede the ability of pedestrians to travel along the length of the public right-of-way or enter a doorway or other entrance alongside the public right-of-way;
  • Sitting within a bus stop zone while waiting for public or private transportation;
  • Who is a child seated in a stroller;
  • Who is homeless during a timeframe when shelter space is unavailable; or
  • Who is engaging in constitutionally protected expressive activities which would otherwise be restricted by the limitations set forth herein.

It also directs that those experiencing homelessness subject to enforcement be directed to emergency shelters, community, drug or mental health court, or other interventional services.

After it's proposed at the Sept. 24 meeting, the proposal will be assigned to committee for review before it's voted on by council members.