City-County Council to hear plan to address downtown panhandling, vagrancy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A plan to curb panhandling and vagrancy in downtown Indianapolis was on the agenda for the City-County Council Monday night.

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.

Ahead of Monday night’s meeting, several Indianapolis organizations and business owners weighed in on the plan.

“This proposed ordinance moves a problem from downtown Indianapolis to other areas in Indianapolis, but does not solve the homeless plight,” the Indianapolis Continuum of Care said in a statement. “In addition, law enforcement resources should be focused on the more severe areas of crime that plague our city.”

"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 last week.

“We have long been in this dialogue that needs a total civic response,” said Bob Schultz, of Downtown Indy, Inc. in an email. “One ordinance will not create the change that's needed, but no matter what, we firmly believe that no one should have to live on the streets.”

Officials with Visit Indy said their board planned to meet Friday about the issue, and withheld further comment until after those discussions.

The issue of downtown panhandling and vagrancy has become a frequent topic of conversation among downtown workers, visitors and business owners. Those who frequent Monument Circle say the homeless population has increased in the last several months, since the city closed down seven homeless camps outside the downtown area.

Even those who identify themselves as homeless have different views on the plan going before the council.

One man, who did not want to be named, says living on the streets of downtown Indianapolis has resulted in multiple interactions with police.

“I’ve been harassed,” he said. “Everywhere I go, the police, they come and tell me to move.”

Another man who identified himself as homeless says he’s noticed the recent influx of apparently homeless people he doesn’t recognize in recent months. He’s not opposed to the plan to prohibit sitting and lying on downtown streets and sidewalks, even thought it would limit his own options.

“Do I agree with it, yes,” he said. “But do I have somewhere to go, no.”

Some downtown business owners say panhandling isn’t their main concern around Monument Circle. Downtown Comics owner, Doug Stephenson has said he’s more worried about fights and criminal activity that often occur in the alley next to his shop.

Studio 2000 Spa co-owner, Kevin Williams, said the ordinance itself would not solve the issue of homelessness in Indianapolis. But, he believes, it could be a good first step in forcing some homeless individuals into seeking another way of life.

“I think it at least gives the city some teeth to make them move away,” Williams said. “And obviously we’d love it if they’d move away to some services that could help them.”

“By having an ordinance that does not allow them to be a vagrant may push them into a situation where they have to seek help rather than just camp out on the circle,” he said.

The City-County Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Monday, where the plan could be assigned to a committee for further study and debate.