Portland Businesses Push Against Panhandling

A group of business owners and merchants in Portland, Maine, are teaming up to address a problem that elected officials have struggled with for years: panhandling.

"It makes residents, workers and tourists feel unsafe," said Ken Cianchette, the chair of a new ad hoc committee through nonprofit Portland Downtown, to address panhandling.

It has been a controversial subject in Maine's largest city for years. In 2013, Portland City Councilors attempted to curb the practice by banning panhandling on street medians, but courts determined the law was unconstitutional.

Now, business leaders are taking up the issue, and say the image of the city is at stake.

"This is well-documented in tourist reviews, surveys conducted by the organization to business owners, and testimonials given by those who live, work, and visit throughout the district," said Cianchette.

The committee has its first meeting on Jan. 9, and according to Portland Downtown's executive director Casey Gilbert, will spend several months studying best practices in other communities before making any recommendations.

"This is a nuanced issue," said Gilbert.

Some business owners around Portland's Old Port district applaud the efforts of the committee.

"I think somebody should do something," said Joe Gaudette, owner of Bill's Pizza. He said not every pan handler causes problems on his corner of Commercial Street in downtown Portland, but said some people can become aggressive when asking for money.

"Some are good, some aren't," he said. "I don't want to say it's bad, but it certainly doesn't help the image [of the city]."

Aaron Root, one of the few people panhandling on a cold winter day, said he doesn’t want to bother anyone, but needs to beg for money to survive.

"I'm stuck out here on a corner, trying to make money, and losing every sense of self respect," he said.

He thinks the best way to end panhandling is to increase services to the homeless.

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