SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Residents in Springfield have been noticing an increase in panhandlers on the streets. The 22News I-Team found out what the city is looking to do to stop panhandling.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said panhandling has increased throughout the city since the pandemic, “Some of these individuals are down on their luck, mental health issues, drug addiction. But some are just plain on the hustle. Some want to help and ask if they can get them some food, and they come back and say, ‘No, we want money.’ And they will tell you how much money they want.”
Some of the areas residents have been complaining to the Mayor’s office about include Union Street near East Columbus Avenue, the X intersection, Bay Street and the intersection of Locust and Mill Streets.
Christo Kalaitzides owns a restaurant near the X. He said everyday he sees people putting themselves in dangerous situations while asking drivers for money, “What if you hit somebody because they are going between cars? What if you hit them, what happens then? I think they should put a stop to it. I think it’s getting out of control.”
Mayor Sarno is looking to add signs to street poles in busy intersections to direct drivers to give money to legitimate organizations that help people dealing with homelessness or drug use instead of giving directly to panhandlers.
“I’m looking at it as a traffic and public safety hazard. These people are going in and out of traffic,” said Sarno.
The mayor cited a town in Florida that did something similar with signs to curb panhandling. Cities and towns can’t ban panhandling though because it’s is protected as free speech under the first amendment. According to the ACLU, the first amendment covers “charitable appeals for funds” that has has been ruled by the Supreme Court to include panhandling.
Springfield Police spokesman Ryan Walsh told the I-Team that officers will offer help and services to people they see panhandling. However he said, that as long as the person isn’t being aggressive, there’s nothing police can do to stop them.
“If you need help, we will give you the help. If you want to hustle, get off my street corners,” said Sarno.