With no discussion – but under the watchful eye of more than a dozen advocates for the homeless – the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously today to send a controversial begging ban back to committee.
On a motion by City Councilman James B. Kraft, one of the bill’s sponsors, the Council approved a motion that, in effect, sends the matter back for re-working to the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee which Kraft chairs.
“Where this poorly-thought-out matter belongs,” tweeted Kevin Lindamood, president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless, upon hearing the news.
The public did not have an opportunity to speak at the meeting, but opponents in the audience holding signs stood silently during the reading of the title of bill 13-0186, “Soliciting – Prohibited Places.”
Before the meeting, they protested outside City Hall holding signs that said “Homes not handcuffs” and “Housing is a human right.”
A Drag on Tourism
The bill’s chief sponsor, Richelle “Rikki” Spector, has said she introduced the original legislation to protect the public and panhandlers.
It was subsequently broadened with amendments that critics said would in effect make panhandling illegal in the entire downtown.
The Downtown Partnership, Visit Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Committee, backers of the amendments, argued that the more restrictive provisions were needed to address a problem that has been hampering city tourism.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland called the amendments cruel, ineffective and unconstitutional.
Towson Students Blast the Ban
Earlier, Towson University students held a “Panhandling for Poverty” demonstration outside the student union to promote activities around National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in Baltimore.
Organizer Mohamed Mansour said he and others from the Muslim Students Association were joining with Baltimore-based Housing Our Neighbors to oppose the city panhandling bill.
“Are they going to criminalize Girl Scouts selling Thin Mints?” he said. “The truth is they’re not going to bat an eye in North Baltimore. They just want to keep poor people away from downtown and the Inner Harbor.”
The students positioned themselves on blankets and sleeping bags, and planned to continue the protest off and on all week, to encourage fellow students to press officials to address poverty and homelessness in a more effective way.
(On Friday, they’re planning The Hunger Banquet from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Chesapeake Hall, with speakers including former Health Care for the Homeless CEO Jeff Singer.)
Mansour said he particularly wanted to make students aware that such issues might seem like distant problems on the national stage, “but they’re really right here all around us.”
“We might not be able to get Bashar al-Assad out of power in Syria, but we can take action right here with our own city council-members.”