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Panhandling

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By Allyson Jacob · May 26th, 2004 · Where Are They Now?
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Then: In 1998, CityBeat reported on the "aftermath" of a U.S. District Court decision to overturn the city ordinances that put severe limitations on panhandling. Katie Taft and Joe Sampson wrote that "the federal ruling seems to say 'hands off' to the city because actions it previously approved are unconstitutional. Homeless advocates advise extending respect to the panhandlers to avoid conflict. And Cincinnati police say how citizens deal with it is a matter of personal choice." Aggressive panhandling was a problem in downtown Cincinnati, with no clear resolution in sight.

(Issue of July 9, 1998)

Now: Nine months ago, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI), the private, nonprofit organization devoted to revitalizing the center city, put together a task force to address the problem of aggressive panhandling.

"Aggressive panhandling is a problem for everybody," explains David Ginsburg, president and CEO of DCI. "We needed a better, more effective enforcement tool." Borrowing an idea from Dayton, the task force decided to recommend to city council that a law be passed forcing panhandlers to register with the city. The law passed, and with it DCI was able to implement a program it calls "free range social outreach," headed up by Brent Chasteen.

Chasteen, social service outreach coordinator for DCI, currently serves as a liaison between people on the streets and the agencies that can help them. Since he's not employed by one specific agency, the services he can provide are not limited. "Many times," Chasteen explains, "people have to meet certain criteria to get help. This program isn't restricted to a certain type of person. I'm filling gaps, especially for people with alcoholism and chronic substance abuse."

He's also building relationships, particularly with Cincinnati Police. Whereas before most aggressive panhandlers faced arrest, now there's someone looking into why they're asking for money in the first place.

"The relationship that's developed has helped everyone," Chasteen says. "The way (the program and registration are) implemented, arresting someone is a last resort." Now, instead of immediately arresting aggressive panhandlers, the police regularly refer them to Chasteen. "We give (them) many, many chances," he states.

Both Ginsburg and Chasteen stress that opponents to the registration law don't see the connection between the law and social services aspect it contains. "The implementation is very different than the law on paper," Chasteen says.

Still, he knows it's not perfect. "The program is only nine months old. Now we've got two years to strengthen it; two years to look at what's working and what's not."



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