An ordinance that would ban panhandling in all parts of Chattanooga, instead of just the downtown area, passed on first reading in City Council’s Tuesday meeting.
The ordinance moved forward with a 7-2 vote. District 2 Councilman Jerry Mitchell and District 9 City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod were the only council people to vote no on the legislation.
Mitchell said that his decision to vote no was rooted in the fact that he doesn’t think the council has an accurate estimate of the severity of the panhandling problem and that there are better ways to help people.
“I think we’re treating the symptoms and not the problems, which we do so often,” he said. “We talk about poverty and we talk about disparity and we talk about things that supposedly matter to us. Frankly speaking, we do very little about it, but we’re willing to create laws that won’t help a thing in my opinion.”
Other city council members said the ordinance would do more good than bad because the intention is to use the ordinance as a way to connect panhandlers with social services.
District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd said he was initially against the ordinance but eventually fell in favor.
“This is a step to getting people who feel hopeless [the help they need],” Byrd said.
The ordinance, as currently written, specifies that police officers will only be allowed to hand out citations to panhandling offenders.
Punishments, including fines and jail sentences, will be handled through the judiciary system.
Before giving out punishments, judges will connect panhandlers with the appropriate social services with the goal of helping the person out of their situation.
Police Chief David Roddy first requested the ordinance in March. He said that the ordinance would allow his officers to be more consistent in policing panhandlers and it would give them a way to connect people with social services.
Several Chattanooga residents came to city council on March 20 to voice their opinions about the proposed ordinance. Those against the ordinance primarily cited their concern for people who may be in a great deal of need.
Those in favor of the legislation mostly discussed how they felt aggressive panhandlers may be affecting local businesses.
The final vote on the ordinance will take place during the April 10 meeting.
Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah.