Several communities post public messages to discourage panhandling.

Several communities post public messages to discourage panhandling.

Aggressive panhandling can intimidate individuals, reduce the safety of our roads, and harm the quality of life in public spaces.

That’s why the City Council is expected to approve legislation next week that would crack down on aggressive panhandling, by establishing areas in which panhandling is prohibited entirely and by banning certain especially intimidating forms of behavior in all locations.

This can be tricky business.

From a moral perspective, all of us should seek to help people in need, and efforts to curb that impulse can seem hard-hearted.  But giving money to aggressive panhandlers is almost always the least effective way to provide assistance.  It is much better to support programs that provide access to permanent housing and other vital social services, like the homelessness prevention initiative recently launched by the City and HOPE Community Services.

From a legal perspective, restrictions should be carefully tailored to address genuine public needs and to protect First Amendment rights.  For this reason, New Rochelle’s new law is modeled on legislation elsewhere that has already withstood challenge in the courts.

The City will also consider public messages, posters, and so forth letting people know that it’s OK to refuse a panhandler and encouraging contributions instead where they will do more good.  Several communities have had success with this sort of information campaign.

I hope and believe that we have struck an appropriate balance, and that this new law will benefit our community.