City Council Delays Vote on Panhandling Ban

Atlanta City Council decided June 20 to postpone its vote on a ban against panhandling within a designated "tourist triangle" downtown.

A representative from the Georgia World Congress Center told City Council before the vote that the No. 1 complaint the center receives from conventioneers is that there's too much panhandling downtown.

But despite pleas from the tourism industry to pass the ordinance, which was proposed by Mayor Shirley Franklin, the council voted 10-2 to send the legislation back to its public safety committee. The committee was scheduled to take up the ordinance June 22, after CL went to press.

State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas, D-Atlanta, who showed up at the council meeting to argue against the ban, says homeless rights advocates scored a victory.

"I think that the council was planning to vote for the ordinance," she says, "and the fact that it was sent back to committee says that the people are going to have a chance to address their concerns."

Avi Brisman, a lawyer with Task Force for the Homeless, says the ordinance would restrict not just beggars, but those looking to help the poor. "If I see somebody that I think needs help, and I give money to that person, can that person get in trouble?" Brisman asks. "Is this law going to infringe on my free speech, on my ability to give money?"

Councilman H. Lamar Willis, who first proposed a panhandling ban three years ago, says he supports the ban and hopes it will help ameliorate the city's homeless problem by coaxing homeless people to the Gateway Center, a 500-bed homeless shelter scheduled to open next month in the old city jail building.

"I think the Gateway Center will combat some of the forces that cause homelessness," Willis says.??

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