Panhandling is a growing problem in many cities and towns throughout the Northeast and Bristol and New Britain are not immune to it.
On any given day individuals holding cardboard signs or a paper cup can be seen at intersections, on highway ramps and street corners, begging motorists or pedestrians for spare change.
Some may say they need bus fare or gas money, while others hold signs reading “will work for food” or “homeless, please help.”
The American Civil Liberties Union says panhandlers are protected by the Constitution and as citizens that have the right to stand on a street corner and beg for money.
But there can also be unintended and even dangerous consequences from this action.
For example, stepping into traffic to take money from a motorist, or pursuing a pedestrian while begging for money, can be considered unsafe and “aggressive.” New Britain passed an aggressive panhandling ordinance two years ago which carries a $99 fine.
According to New Britain police, there have been 25 reported incidents since July of 2016 involving aggressive panhandling, four of which included “full custody arrests.”
Both the New Britain chief of police and the mayor called panhandling a “safety concern.”
But some merchants see panhandling as a nuisance that hurts their business.
The manager of Capitol Lunch in New Britain told The Herald “A lot of elderly customers that come here are afraid to because of the panhandling. They don’t even want to cross the street.”
On rare occasions, the panhandler becomes violent as was the situation in Bristol when an elderly man was attacked by a man in front of a discount store when the victim refused to hand over some money.
Not all panhandlers are violent. Some are homeless. Some may have substance abuse issues. But panhandling has become such a dilemma the last few years that a few cities are taking unusual measures to curb it.
One New England city installed special raised medians impossible to stand on. Another has “giving meters” to collect change. While another is considering posting signage that discourages people from giving money to panhandlers.
There is no doubt that someone begging for change needs help. But most officials agree, dropping a few coins into an open palm isn’t the answer.