Madison Mayor Paul Soglin had strong words for panhandlers Monday as he called for a new ordinance aimed at combating the practice on Madison roads.
The ordinance would prohibit anyone from approaching a vehicle on the highway.
Soglin said the goal of the proposed ordinance is public safety.
“When you look at the stories throughout the United States, panhandlers are getting killed left and right,” Soglin said. “We’ve put in a proposed ordinance, an amendment, to stop all of this dangerous frolicking in the roadway.”
Soglin said he believes the proposed ordinance would pass federal muster, unlike Madison’s previous panhandling ordinance. It and similar anti-panhandling ordinances in other cities were struck down by a federal court in January for specifically targeting panhandling. The new ordinance bans anyone from approaching a vehicle for any reason, not just panhandling.
“Don’t play in the streets,” Soglin said. “Everybody’s parents tell them that.”
Since then, people claiming to be homeless and asking for money has been a constant sight at many major Madison intersections. Soglin said most panhandlers on Madison roads aren’t legitimate.
“There is no evidence that these dozens and dozens of people who have arrived to do this in the last three months are homeless,” Soglin said. “This is a grifter operation.”
Tammy Peters, who stood in the median at the intersection of University Avenue and Midvale Boulevard Monday, claiming to be homeless and asking for money, said she and most others are legitimately homeless and the proposed ordinance would unfairly punish them.
“Most people that are out here are truly in need,” Peters said. “What you’re doing is basically moving the homeless. If you push them off the median, you’re moving them somewhere else.”
Peters said Madison officials should instead address creating more resources for the homeless.
“You need to address the issue at hand and have more resources available, period,” Peters said.
Steve Schooler, the executive director of Porchlight Inc., a homeless services organization in Madison, said Porchlight studies have shown that a large percentage of panhandlers aren’t legitimate and it’s impossible to tell who’s legitimate and who’s not.
“A lot of the panhandlers are not, in fact, homeless,” Schooler said. “With respect to the panhandlers themselves, it’s not clear what they’re going to use the money for.”
Porchlight strongly advises drivers to not give money to panhandlers and instead donate it to organizations like Porchlight or the Salvation Army to be sure where that money is going.
“Take the money that you would give to a panhandler and give it to a charitable nonprofit,” Schooler said. “We don’t give cash directly to any of the people we serve. For the most part, we give it in terms of vouchers and payments so that we control exactly what they’re going to use the money for.”
Soglin responded to critics who claim curbing panhandling unfairly targets the homeless.
“Every time we do something which tries to bring safety to both homeless individuals and non-homeless individuals, they start claiming that we’re criminalizing homelessness,” Soglin said. “(It’s) nothing more than doublespeak and babble. It’s almost out of some kind of mindless proletarian state out of ‘Animal House’ or ‘Lord of the Flies.'”
Soglin said the proposal has been sent to committee by the Common Council and he isn’t sure if alders will consider the ordinance further.
“Instead of acting on it, the council referred it to a committee, where it’s lost and long gone,” Soglin said. “Hopefully, one day, instead of our office receiving more and more concerns and complaints about this panhandling in the roadway, we will get action by the city council on this.”