Beggars fall under scrutiny scrutiny

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The panhandler hanging out at Suffolk Shopping Center last month picked the wrong person to ask for a handout.

Days after he and his family were approached by a stranger asking for money, Mayor Bobby L. Ralph asked city administrators to check panhandling ordinances in neighboring localities and to craft one for Suffolk. Currently, the city has no such ordinance on the books.


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Ralph expects a draft will be ready for the City Council’s review at next Wednesday’s meeting.

&uot;We need a panhandling ordinance,&uot; Ralph said. &uot;There is more and more of

it occurring …and we are having more businesses complain about it. It’s not healthy for a shopping area to have people begging.

&uot;Downtown is becoming more active and we have worked too hard to bring downtown to this point to have this happening,&uot; he continued. &uot;I will put forth every effort that I can to see that something is done to curtail it.&uot;

That comes as good news to most business owners and downtown employees, many of whom have been approached themselves.

&uot;The city does need some sort of policy,&uot; said downtown employee Leslie Burkey. On several occasions, she said, people have walked up to her in the Cherry Street parking lot, asking for cigarettes or money to buy food or medicine.

&uot;It’s frightening because you don’t know the person approaching you or what they want,&uot; she said. &uot;I’ll help anyone but don’t scare me.&uot;

Although she didn’t have numbers available, Lt. Debbie George, spokeswoman for the Suffolk Police Department, said the department does get calls about panhandlers in the downtown district.

&uot;It is an issue we are looking at,&uot; George said.

People begging money off customers has become almost routine at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, said employees Barbara Hasson and Janet Pearson.

&uot;People come in bumming money off customers all the time,&uot; Pearson said &uot;I’ve thrown them out. I don’t want them bothering our customers.&uot;

Around the corner, Mickey Boyette, owner of Heirlooms of Tomorrow on North Main Street, said panhandlers are a serious problem.

&uot;Hardly a day goes by that somebody isn’t out there begging for money,&uot; said Boyette. &uot;It is intrusive and intimidating to customers who are used to shopping at malls.

&uot;It is a big problem. If we are going to keep drawing people downtown, we are going to have to do something about it soon.&uot;