Panhandling Creates Problem For Missoula Businesses - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Panhandling Creates Problem For Missoula Businesses

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MISSOULA -

A city council committee is cracking down on panhandling after a handful of local businesses complained panhandlers are keeping their customers away. Both, city officials and business owners, said this is not an issue of homelessness. They said it's an issue of aggressive behavior.

The owner of Worden's Deli in downtown Missoula said his store has dealt with the reoccurring issue of panhandling since it opened it's doors more than 30 years ago.

"We've been putting up with it for 32 years on this corner, and we've been battling it for that amount of time, and we've made considerable progress," said Worden's owner Tim France.

France said progress was made with the first Missoula ordinance cracking down on panhandling in 2009, but he said, in the past several years the problem is increasingly affecting business.

"I've heard people say they don't want to come downtown, because they don't want to be panhandled, I mean, who wants to be panhandled," France said.

City officials said in 2013 so far, Downtown Ambassadors have dealt with more than 5,000 cases of panhandling. They said that's 14 pan handlers per day pestering people trying to enjoy Missoula's downtown.

This morning Missoula City Council's public safety committee met to discuss changes to the original ordinance dealing with panhandling.

"I think some of the bad behaviors we're seeing with the aggression, intimidation, even asking people for money is really hurting our downtown economy," City Counselor Caitlin Copple said.

If approved, it would be illegal to solicit money within 20 feet of an entrance or exit of a business. Under the current law, that distance is six feet. It would also be illegal to sit, sleep or lie on sidewalks within the core downtown between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

"That's really to ensure people of any age who are going into work will be safe," said Copple.

Some have argued this ordinance will criminalize homelessness, but France and other business owners say many of the people creating the issue are not homeless, but travel to Missoula from out of town and ask for your money.

"I can tell you the issue is not one of homelessness, the issue is one of adverse behavior," France said.

Missoula City Council will have it's first vote on the ordinance Monday. If approved, a public hearing will be set for December 16.

 

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