Downtowners tell of panhandling woes

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 10, 2004

Any panhandling problem in Suffolk could probably be effectively dealt with through existing ordinances and certainly an increased police presence downtown, several downtowners agreed Thursday afternoon at a meeting to discuss the issue.

Sixteen people turned out for a Downtown Business Association meeting at The Baron’s Pub to discuss the issue and exchanged their personal experiences in dealing with the issue. Most of those in attendance signed a petition that DBA President Andy Damiani plans to present to City Council Wednesday, urging the passage of an ordinance prohibiting panhandling.

&uot;We want to be reasonable, but we want them to know we’re here to do business and we want them (Council) to keep them away,&uot; said Mickey Boyette, owner of Heirlooms of Tomorrow on North Main Street.

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Boyette told the group he frequently places furniture outside his store to attract customers and &uot;it fills up.&uot;

The matter came before City Council at its last meeting but no action was taken after several council members said they felt the proposed ordinance was too stringent, calling for no panhandling within 100 feet of a bank. It is expected to be back before Council next week.

Donnie Carter of Carter Furniture said he has witnessed aggressive panhandlers intimidating people who want to shop at his business.

&uot;The biggest problem is when they block people in their car begging for money and people can’t get out because they feel intimidated,&uot; Carter said.

Kerry Bateman, owner of Kerry’s Diner on East Washignton Street, said she was once stalked by a panhandler in the parking lot of the East Washington Street police precinct and he did not stop until he was accosted by officers.

Dianna Klink, who works in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, is often approached while trying to eat her lunch in the park next to the courthouse.

Most of those present agreed that the problem has intensified since the bicycle patrols stopped several months ago.

&uot;I think the key is a police presence,&uot; Damiani said. &uot;We need to have a little more police pressure.&uot;

Damiani said he plans to canvass the downtown area between now and Wednesday’s meeting collecting signatures for the petition.