New ordinance aggressively targets panhandlers

The Rockford City Council voted unanimously Sept. 25 to approve a new ordinance, placing restrictions on when, where and how panhandlers may beg for money.

“We’re taking this seriously, and we’re gonna pursue it,” said Ald. Doug Mark (R-3). “This certainly is one that sends a note that we’re not going to tolerate this type of activity in the city of Rockford.”

Mark explained that there will be at least a month-long period before police will begin administering fines. During this time, an ad campaign will be aimed at educating the public about the new law.

After this, violators could face fines of up to $750. Failure to pay the fines can result in jail time.

Asked how homeless could be expected to pay these fines, Mark referred to the significance of the grace period.

“We need to direct the homeless people to the social service groups,” said Mark. “Quite honestly, not every homeless person is a panhandler, and certainly not every panhandler is homeless. So, we have to get that fine line, and to address those issues for aggressive panhandling.”

Mark added that Rockford social service organizations are in support of the new law.

The ordinance makes it illegal for beggars to make physical contact, use intimidating language, and to follow or block a person’s path.

The law bans all nighttime panhandling, as well as begging for money within 20 feet of bank entrances, ATMs, rest homes and other special needs facilities. Bus stops, parked or stopped vehicles, sidewalk cafes, public transportation and parking garages are also panhandling-free zones.

Mark added: “We’ve not really taken away the ability to ask somebody for a dollar, but it’s the aggressive panhandling, it’s the stalking, it’s the in-your-face, it’s the aggressive behavior that we’re hoping to address in the city.”

Residents who still wish to help the homeless are urged to give money to the various social services in the area that assist them.

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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