Stretching from the foot of Bascom Hill to the steps of the Wisconsin Capitol, State Street plays an integral role in the lives of university students and Madison residents. Because of the centrality of State Street, there has been growing concern among city officials over State Street’s safety.
One of these concerns is the act of panhandling.
In recent months, panhandling on State Street has risen a noticeable degree, according to Madison Police Chief Richard Williams.
Last Friday, due to the increasing calls to take action against panhandlers, city officials including Williams, Mayor Susan Bauman, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc. and Enis Ragland, Mayor Bauman’s chief of staff, met and discussed the problems and potential solutions to State Street’s panhandling problem.
Currently, Madison city ordinance 24.12, which prohibits menacing or aggressive panhandling, applies to panhandling activities in the Madison area.
The purpose of this ordinance is to “ensure unimpeded pedestrian traffic flow, to maintain and protect the physical safety and well-being of pedestrians and to otherwise foster a safe and harassment-free environment in public places in the city of Madison.”
According to the ordinance, panhandlers are not to sit on the sidewalk while seeking a procurement of money, remain a minimum of 50 feet away from any automatic teller machine and refrain from panhandling on the sidewalk between building walls and light poles.
Penalties for violation of this ordinance range from fines of $10 to $200.
This city ordinance, passed in 1985, is often enforced by the Madison Police Department, according to Verveer. But Verveer believes there are not enough police officers on hand to deal with what seems to be the highest concentration of panhandlers in recent history.
“The main reason why this has come into focus now is because of the large numbers of panhandlers downtown,” Verveer said.
Those who attended Friday’s meeting on panhandling hope to find a way to strengthen city ordinance 24.12 and the city’s policy toward panhandling. According to Verveer, a subcommittee is going to explore the panhandling issue and reinforce the safety of pedestrians on State Street.
The subcommittee will include members of city hall, officials from the downtown business district and student representatives.
Besides cutting down on panhandling, the subcommittee will focus on the source of the panhandlers. “[We are] trying to figure out the root cause of why there are so many panhandlers,” Verveer said.