Cincinnati city council to crack down on panhandling

By Kimberly Holmes – bio | email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19)  - Homeless beggars could soon face big consequences in Cincinnati.

Seven council members are trying to crack down on panhandling in the city, but some homeless advocates say their method is all wrong.

City council is set to vote on what's called "the minimum standards" on Thursday. It's essentially the rules shelters that receive city money must follow.

If it passes, shelters will have to make sure no one staying there is out begging on the streets, but leaders of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) say that's against the law.

And many like Cincinnati native Lee Price agree.

Price has been homeless for about a year. He said he lost his job and can't work because he's disabled. He has family in the area, but says he'd rather take care of himself and depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

Price spends every day begging for money. He said that if he had to choose between shelter and rules or what he calls freedom and food, panhandling would win.

"Because shelters say you'd have to work," Price said. "I don't work. I can't work. I'd do better out here."

And if Cincinnati City Council's 2010 Motion of Standards is passed, more homeless could be doing the same.

The motion outlines what city shelters must follow to get funding. This year, a proposed law would require shelters to discourage panhandling.

Council member Jeff Berding said that begging only hurts the homeless.

Josh Spring runs the GCCH. He agrees that panhandling isn't the answer, but he says that forcing shelters to kick out homeless men and women isn't a solution either.

"If they need help, the shelter is there to help," Berding said. "But there's no consequences in the policy."

"The bottom line is that at a shelter, when you're down on your luck and you really don't have anything, the only consequence is you get put out," said Spring.

Both sides also disagree on what's really the problem.

Berding said the trouble all started when Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls changed the agency in charge of overseeing the standards at shelters from the coalition to the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Continuum of Care for the Homeless.

"It's consistent with best practices all around the country," said Berding. "I understand the Coalition for the Homeless isn't happy, but that's the real issue here."

"The only reason that we are angry is because this will force our shelters to do things that shelters shouldn't be forced to do," said Spring.

Council is set to vote on this issue Thursday at 2 p.m. The public speech portion begins at 1:30p.m.

Spring said that if the motion passes, he and other groups plan to sue the city. Spring says the motion would be unconstitutional.

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