Updated: 01/29/2013 7:21 AM KSTP.com By: Tim Sherno
When the City of St. Louis Park began to see an increase in panhandling, city officials and police searched for solutions through social services and community assistance.
Chief John Luse says first attempts are easing the presence of panhandlers focused on outreach, "Our early assumptions were if we could find ways of offering food or shelter so we could reduce or minimize the panhandling issue, proved to be the wrong analysis."
Officer Paul Barnes says police received training from St. Steven's Shelter on how to best offer assistance but the response wasn't want anyone expected, "Zero. Most folks don't like the shelters, they they're dangerous. And then a lot of folks i deal with weren't homeless in that they weren't living on the street, they were staying with friends or family that's how they would describe their homelessness."
Even though none of the panhandlers agreed to offers of assistance, Chief Luse says the city has continued to reach out, "We haven't abandoned the belief that there are people that need food and need shelter in the community."
In addition to trying to help panhandlers, the city now says it has moved to make panhandling less dangerous by prohibiting panhandlers from standing in the median of busy roads.
Chief Luse says safety is important for both panhandlers and drivers, "They're a distraction for drivers, we want them watching the crosswalk in front of them, and the merging traffic that they're entering and merging with, we don't want them looking at cardboard signs."
The city has posted signs on medians prohibiting anyone from standing, loitering or panhandling. Luse says the city continues to offer assistance but will also write citations if needed, "We think it's a very legitimate place for us to draw a line saying we're just not going to let you to stand on narrow medians and lean against semaphore poles and hold signs up, distracting people while you're asking for money.”