Madison officials and
community leaders are calling the new ban on panhandling a success nearly two
months after taking effect.

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

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.

As a result, panhandling
could often be seen on the 500 block of State Street. Ald. Mike Verveer,
District 4, told The Badger Herald in September he received many complaints
about the area.

“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

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.”