At the Board of Selectmen meeting on Thursday, there was a discussion about the town’s new signs that discourage people from giving money to panhandlers. The signs are very similar to the ones on the city of Stamford.
First Selectman Camillo said he’d spoken to the police chief and the Police Dept had looked into the situation and determined there was some fraud involved.
He said that while it’s a human reaction to give money to people in need, but, “The worst thing you can do is to give money right now. Human Services has sent people out there several times. Every attempt to help has been rejected. We’ve even had people offering jobs get rejected.”
Camillo said he’d been told that one panhandler in Stamford collected $2,500 a week.
The First Selectmen said until people stop giving panhandlers money, the complaints will continue.
“Giving money is not having a heart,” Camillo continued. “Unfortunately, you’re prolonging the issue. When help is repeatedly rejected, there’s something else going on there.”
“If they leave litter there, that’s illegal, so they will be ticketed. If they go in the road, they will be ticketed,” he continued. “They have the right to assemble and the right to free speech, but when it comes to public safety or breaking the law or an ordinance , we will have to ticket them, and we don’t want to do that.
Schellenberg, attorney from Marino, Zabel & Schellenberg, PLLC, who represents the town of Greenwich, said a paralegal with her firm had already done some research on the matter and raised concerns about the First Amendment, but that he was continuing to research the issue.
Schellenberg said the paralegal was researching existing laws including what is being done in other towns as well as what enforcement is possible without the town having to create a new ordinance.
At the August Selectmen meeting, Barbara Heins from the First Selectman’s office said least a dozen cities and towns in Connecticut had enacted ordinances, and they are almost identical in wording. The ordinances call for citations with fines from $50 to $250 per offense.
Creating an ordinance would require drafting, submission before Selectmen and RTM approval.
Selectwoman Janet Stone McGuigan said some panhandlers may be situations in which they are exploited, but she thought the signs were transparent and effective.