The ban, approved by the City Council in mid-September, specifically targets State Street and the Capitol Square area. According to Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain, the ban has been effective except for a few instances of the law being broken.
He said police wrote “about a dozen” tickets for panhandling over the past seven weeks in the downtown area.
“Moreover, everything is going very well, at least as far as business owners and others in the downtown area are concerned,” DeSpain said.
Under the rules before the ban was passed, panhandling could be legally performed downtown as long as it occurred a certain distance away from businesses or an Automated Teller Machine.
“Most of the problems associated with panhandling are no longer in the downtown area, although we do occasionally see some panhandling taking place as people are roaming around,” DeSpain said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin voiced its disapproval not long after the ordinance was passed for, what it argues, was a violation of First Amendment rights.
ACLU of Wisconsin spokesperson Stacy Harbaugh said the organization is still strongly encouraging the city government to reconsider the law and is open to exploring legal options as well.
“We would encourage anyone who is affected by the law, whether they have received a citation or fall into a category of people who would be affected — that includes individuals and charities — to contact our legal department,” Harbaugh said.
President of Downtown Madison Inc. Susan Schmitz said she agreed with DeSpain about the ordinance’s success but added it still might be too early to judge its effectiveness.
She said Madison also needs to take the next step and communicate to the public the continued funding of charitable organizations is necessary to help the homeless.
“It’s a pretty complex group of folks and it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of solution,” she said.
The idea of converting old city parking meters into donations receptacles for charities in an attempt to prevent passersby from giving panhandlers money was also tossed two months ago. But so far, no such meters have been implemented.
Based on research conducted by Downtown Madison Inc., Schmitz said an initiative such as that probably would not bring a lot of money to help the homeless but could be an effective tool for marketing and communicating to the public how to best donate resources to homeless and low-income individuals.
Porchlight Inc. Executive Director Steven Schooler said his organization’s interest in being involved with the project would depend on how its administration would function.
“The upkeep and the maintenance of all these various parking meters usually outstrips what is ever received from them,” Schooler said. “That’s not always the case; there are some [cities], I think, where they’ve actually been able to generate some revenue from it.”