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May 13, 2010

Sidewalk Sitting Ban Proposed in Burlington

Wtf_3 A proposed ordinance being reviewed by Burlington City Councilors could ban people from sitting on the sidewalks of five key downtown streets that feed onto the Church Street Marketplace.

The ban would also extend to sandwich board signs or other types of advertising, though it would allow any existing licensed "encumbrances" to continue until their license expires.

The Burlington City Council Monday night agreed to send the proposed ordinance to its Ordinance Committee for review. The three-member committee is chaired by Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5), and includes Councilors Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) and Bram Kranichfeld (D-Ward 2).

The ordinance would create a "right of way" extending six feet from the edge of buildings, and would mirror existing bans on the Church Street Marketplace. The Marketplace "right-of-way" extends nine feet from the edge of buildings.

The affected streets would be Pearl, Cherry, Bank, College and Main Streets between South Winooski Avenue and St. Paul Street.

The proposed ordinance was crafted "in response to a variety of complaints and concerns about persons seated, laying down, and in a host of other stationary positions on the sidewalks in the downtown," wrote Police Chief Michael Schirling in a memo to councilors.

Hmm, I wonder what "other stationary positions" look like.

The proposal, according to Schirling, would be a "pilot project" to keep the sidewalks free for all pedestrians, including the elderly and disabled.

The intent of the ordinance, as drafted, reads, in part: "This section is enacted to protect the public safety and to provide for unencumbered passage for pedestrians and disabled citizens ... and to promote the economic vitality of the downtown area."

It would also likely curb the kind of panhandling downtown pedestrians pass by on several downtown routes. Seven Days staffer Andy Bromage tackled the subject in this week's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, asking: "Why do panhandlers hang out in that spot on Main Street?"

The answer? According to those Bromage talked to it's either a good spot to ask for spare change or its simply the sunnier side of the street.

The ordinance is just another in a series of efforts aimed at "cleaning up" downtown Burlington. Earlier this year, the council adopted a smoking ban for the city's parks and beaches. Church Street was spared from the ban this time, but a previous effort to ban smoking on the Marketplace failed, too. Who knows? Maybe the third time is the charm.

On Monday, too, the council voted 10-4 to oppose the issuance of an Act 250 permit to Phoenix House to operate a 20-bed transitional house on Elmwood Avenue, just a half block from the top of Church Street. The opposition to the proposal was fueled, in part, by downtown business concerns that it would add more "undesirable people" onto the Marketplace and detract shoppers from coming to the pedestrian mall.

Wonder if we'll see a renewed interest in Westward Ho!, a privately-funded effort in the 1980s that gave certain folks a one-way bus ticket out of town. And, not just Shelburne or Charlotte out of town, but waaayyy out of town.

Photo credit: Andy Bromage.

I feel that this ban would be a bad decision. How else would I continue to find inspiration to work hard towards my goals if I didn't have "undesirables" in my life? Maybe all the musician "undesirables" should release an album? They already have the best name for a band EVER!

Maybe we should have a sit-in to protest...

Good idea. Not.

Let's scrub Burlington free of any character, unsightliness, risk, nuisance, or entrepreneurial germs.

Good grief. Is there really a serious issue passing along sidewalks? I understand of the need for public officials to respond to complaints but this strikes me as a solution in search of a problem.

I'm all for getting rid of panhandling, especially if it forces Mr. "Spare Some Change, Bro?" on Bank Street to clean up his life. (Seriously, I swear this guy only knows seven words: Spare, You, Can, Some, Change, Bro, and Yo). But taking away a person's right to have a seat, albeit a dirty seat, is a little too extreme for my tastes.

I think we should adopt the idea that Atlanta tried for their panhandlers: Charity donation meters, placed around town at the panhandling hot spots, designed to encourage those who wish to help the homeless to do so in such a way that will actually help them. I submitted this idea to the mayor's office last fall and never heard a response.

Left to run the city in place of an "out-of-touch" mayor, majority Dems sure are displaying the kind of leadership they want in Burlington.

Boy, was I wrong in thinking there were far more important items than this.

Not in favor of banning sitting or loitering in public. Not in favor of selective ordinance legislations to deal with "problem" behavior. Not in favor.

Very disappointed Burlington. Perhaps if we helped to house people they wouldn't have to sit on the street. While no one loves dealing with people asking for money, hiding the problem that people are in need won't make it go away.

"Left to run the city in place of an "out-of-touch" mayor"

So he's resigned? Hard to tell the difference

Let me get this straight......Burlington sets up painted cows on Church St that no one will look at more than once imho to lure money downtown for the merchants but once again tries to hide the down and out ? What type of knee jerk reaction will be considered when the Furthur fans hit town

"Perhaps if we helped to house people they wouldn't have to sit on the street."

I'd be surprised if all of the beggars around Church Street are in fact homeless. Perhaps some are but I think that a lot of them are kids living with mom and dad ... but my assumption is only as valid as yours.

The government does help to house people. There are lots of housing programs. There are lots of social programs to help people get back on their feet. I'd like to see more support for these programs ... and I'd also rather not be harassed by groups of people asking for spare change every time I walk past the Dunkin' Donuts.

Outrageous! Let's house them instead of hiding them!

We have trouble enforcing the laws and ordinances already in place. Whatever the reason is we simply have trouble enforcing existing laws, so lets make some more laws and ordinances and effect them in an educational way. Plenty of laws already in place to insure public safety and the like no need for more. Enforce what we have and life will be as ok as ok gets.
Whether it be loitering, transients, murder or jaywalking, plenty of laws already on the books. Just enforce them and persuade the Chittenden county attorney to prosecute them. No new laws.

What a WONDERFUL idea! We could move them to the city line and pay them to hand out plastic flowers to paying customers entering Disneyworld North.

Maybe the Disney corporation will buy Burlington and then we can only let shiny happy people in! What's next? An ordinance on how many times we have to bathe in a week? Other groups in history have tried to cleanse their own little worlds from "unsociable behavior". It hasn't worked out that well. Such heinous crimes - smoking, sitting, playing music, riding a bike, skateboarding. What a Nanny state. Exodus to the Adirondacks is my advice.

This is typical behavior of a moribund city. It can't grow and everything it does only exacerbates the problem.

"Very disappointed Burlington. Perhaps if we helped to house people they wouldn't have to sit on the street. While no one loves dealing with people asking for money, hiding the problem that people are in need won't make it go away."

Blah, blah, blah. Bleeding heart mush. Why don't you let them live with you.

"Let's house them instead of hiding them!"

Yeah, then when word gets out that Burlington houses its homeless, I'm sure no more of them will show up. Clavelle already made a jackass of himself with this one, you're too late.

Who says they are all homeless? This shouldn't about *who* they are. It's about whether people, homeless or not, should be allowed to sit on a sidewalk.

Deb, other people made the assumption that the folks sitting on the sidewalk are homeless. I challenged that assumption.

Should people be allowed to sit on the sidewalk? In the same spot all day? Should they be allowed to sleep there? What if these people are begging others for money? What if they are insulting people who refuse to give them a handout?

There are plenty of parks and benches in the city. City sidewalks are not constructed so that people can loiter and harass others. They are constructed to encourage and promote pedestrian traffic.

Sounds like a fine idea to me. I work downtown and I get asked for change all the time just walking between the co-op and the mall. My break is 15 minutes during which I usually run and buy food. It sucks to get panhandled twice in the span of that 15 minutes.

Sometimes I'll ask these folks "have you been to the department for children and families?" It's RIGHT THERE like 50 feet away on Cherry Street. Go there and get food stamps or apply for cash assistancee.

You might have noticed they put black fencing in the bench-like inset at the base of the municipal parking garage recently to prevent people from sitting there. Now that actually was a nice place to sit and catch some sun sometimes. Now the darn beggers have runined that for everybody.

I was in Armenia for a week last year and spent most of my time in Yerevan, a city of maybe a half million. This is a country with a per capita income of less than $5000 and there are virtually no beggers at all. I saw one guy in traffic in the middle of the city asking drivers for money-and my nephew said this one man was a rarity- known by the much of the city to be mentally ill and accepted.

Actually come to think of it, in the days just following that eye opening trip to Armenia, where everyone is well dressed and well groomed- I remember feeling culture shocked returning home and remembering how dirty and unkempt so many people are downtown in my city.

We could do with a bit more personal dignity around here. In the meantime, the council should pass the loitering ban so at least the cops could shoe people away if they are just sitting around bothering people for money.

Oh boo hoo. What business do they have to sit there and bother people? I'm sick of it.

Well, I dont know if housing is the issue here. Some may choose to be homeless, others may have homes. However I think spangers have a right to be on Church Street as much as anyone else. Just because they are not consumers of Church Street products, maybe they are, doesnt mean they dont have the right to be there. Its just as easy to say no. I have no problem with saying no. I mean I am a single mom with very little money myself, and people still spange me. I just look at them like "are you kidding?" Its easy enough to say no. I just came back from Mexico and people are hustling for money everywhere, you simply say no thank you. Church street is nothing compared to that. Also if you ban them off church street they will just do it somewhere else. Beggars have been around forever. Everyone has their place. It just wont solve anything..I like to see the streets a little more colorful..Just say no. No need to force people off a public place, and expressing their needs or wants..Really I dont see this as a huge problem here. Come on people, have some guts..Maybe thats what Burlington needs. People with guts. oh lets pretend these people don't exist, or dont have the right to.

I see them all the time. They don't bother me; I just say no.

But guess what, they are there because quite a few people give them money. I am guessing most of these "donors" are from the suburbs or out of town, but they fall hook-line-and-sinker for the pitch. They are always white, middle aged or older, neatly dressed and seem genuinely shocked by the plight of the poor seated soul . . . they will often pair the cash with a heartfelt effort at "help". The young women with the cardboard signs are special recipients of these efforts, and I suspect they are among the highest earners.

But the courts have generally protected panhandling, unless the public is being harassed. A silent beggar with a hat out may be an eyesore, but he or she has every right to be there.

Once again Burlington reveals itself as an enclave of like-minded, ex-suburbanites! (Hmmm . . . like myself, now that I think of it . . .)

"Hmm, I wonder what "other stationary positions" look like."

Just a thought, but this ordinance might be aimed at Burlington's growing population of mimes.

Right, this the Mayor recommending this along with the other liberals in town!? Its the Republican, conservative church street marketplace dopes pushing this. These morons are driven by one thing and one thing only and if that means homogenizing the entire downtown so be it.

"spangers have a right to be on Church Street as much as anyone else."

All people have a right to be on Church Street, as long as they are not breaking laws. But people do not have a right to sit in the middle of a public sidewalk. People do not have a right to harass other people.

"These morons are driven by one thing and one thing only"

They are driven by profit. They want their downtown businesses to succeed and to make money. They want to attract paying customers. In turn, they will employ people, make building improvements and pay taxes. These things will make Burlington a stronger community. The motives of the store owners are laudable.

"It sucks to get panhandled twice in the span of that 15 minutes. "

Oh the suffering... Oh the humanity.... God-forbid you should have to interact with poor and outcast people twice a day!

Yeah... crush the faces of the poor... drive them out... hound them, despise them.

Always remember, you're the victim.

I'm tired of it, too. I work downtown, and there are certain sidewalks I just don't go down. I will make a point of crossing mid street just to get where I need to go. Those people who say "just say no" - how often do you go downtown? It's nice that they're redoing the MacDonalds, because there was a woman there who stood there 8-5, sometimes with a kid. And then you'd see them get into a Volvo and go home.

I don't know if a sidewalk sitting ban is the way to go. It should be an anti panhandling ban. I have a heart. I give hundreds to COTS every year. But panhandling is a nuisance, and I don't pass certain businesses, because I get harrassed in front of them.

"Yeah... crush the faces of the poor... drive them out... hound them, despise them."

HA! "crush the faces?" What imagery! You're a poet Joseph. I imagine the sad sound of a single violin follows you wherever you go.

I've said it before to my friends here (and I'll say it again): Burlington is a small town pushing hard to be a city. And if you read all the accolades Burlington has received in the PR "Best of..." categories, you'd think we were the most hospitable, liveable place in North America! We're not! As I read the whining comments on here, hardness of heart comes to mind. You've lost that spirit of generosity that has made Vermont great!

When I lived in London ten years ago, I might have been irritated by the constant panhandlers, but recognised that this is part of life in a big city. Actually, I stopped frequently outside my neighbourhood tube station and talked with the people who sat there ("Spare some change, sir?") and heard their stories. Turns out the majority were human! Fancy that! And several friends I made had once been among the working class, laid off unemployed (one pay-check away from poverty), and were struggling to find food for their own families. (With the new ConDem government it will get worse!)

The memo accompanying this resolution was written by police chief Schirling. He heads up that same force that sends deputy officers as department liaisons to NPA meetings, encouraging citizens to act as block wardens and report on citizens' "undesirable" activities in neighbourhoods. So much for friendly, community policing.

I'm actually more concerned about the despicable NIMBY resolution against Phoenix House. "The Other America" is alive right in our own backyard.

I don't think anyone has to worry about losing local "color" by passing an ordinance against those in stationary positions. Has anyone been to Church street on any given weekday morning? It's like a dress rehearsal for the Halloween Zombie parade! And none of those folks who look like they just missed or are seeking their next dose of "something" are I think they're here to stay.

I think if you stop and take liberal/conservative politically charged arguments out of it the fact is they are simply saying "no sitting/laying around on the sidewalk". When you visit another town do you ever have the urge to just cop a squat on the sidewalk? Of course not, because that is where people WALK. If it is was an ordinance about no sitting in a park, no sitting on a bench, or no sitting on a beach, then I could see the need to be perturbed. But this just seems to be common sense to make sure the sidewalks are clear so the sideWALKs can serve their named purpose.

There is no biking permitted in the Marketplace area, if sidewalks are deemed to be OK replacements for benches, perhaps cyclists should start lobbying to have them act as roadways as well.

Look at the shoes on the girl in the picture. Does she need to be begging? The shoes say no.

"God-forbid you should have to interact with poor and outcast people twice a day!"

Oh the pathos! I'm gnashing my teeth and rending my garments e'en now!

Get over yourself you fool. You have no frickin idea whether the street-sitters are homeless or even poor. The woman in the photo above is obviously neither. Your unthinking, pathetic, heart-bleed ideology makes you assume that everyone who isn't working is poor or homeless. THINK. DON'T ASSUME. THINK. Some people are just lazy. THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO ABOVE DOES NOT NEED TO BEG FOR MONEY.

Haik said "Look at the shoes on the girl in the picture. Does she need to be begging? The shoes say no."

Dude , you are a real A-Hole. You think you know someones whole life based on the shoes they are wearing? Even worse you think you can tell that those shoes are expensive? How? Can you read the label? Do you know someone didn't give them to her? Do you know if she was working two months ago when she bought them and then got laid off?

Do you know anything? that one I'll answer, NO! Give me a break. Take your prejudice and biases to Arizona.

I am an asshole sometimes Matthew, that's undeniable. But bear in mind I said the shoes say no. The shoes could be wrong. Shoes only tell the truth 90% of the time.

Nah, dollars to donots, the whole shot was staged for the 7dvt 'story'.

It's a mistake to assume that she's homeless.

It's a mistake to assume that she's not.

This proposed ordinance isn't about homelessness. It's about how people conduct themselves & treat others in public spaces.

...but what does Coach Handbags have to say about all this?

Funny, in the context of certain school scandals occurring in Vermont lately, "Coach Handbags" has a certain perverted ring to it.

Oh -- if this ordinance outlaws mimes, I am *all* for it. Glory be to God.

I was just asked for change on Bank Street by the same man I've dealt with on my way to work for over a year. I asked the man why he needed money and he said he was 80 cents short of being able to buy a beer. I asked him why he needed a beer to which he replied, "because it's hot."

The reality is our city has both homeless folks and leeches who will take advantage of the kindness of strangers. We can't make laws to get rid of either, but we can help the former while discouraging the latter. As a solution, again, I recommend charity donation meters positioned around the city as has been done in other cities ( Money donated will go directly to organizations helping to end homelessness. And each cent given means one less cent in the hands of a leech.

Jay mentioned the fact that Burlington is "struggling to be a city" and I think that's the crux of this problem. Seriously, we don't need to reinvent the wheel here, and we certainly don't need to enact more dumb laws about how you can and can't behave on a public street. This, the proposed smoking ban, the skateboard ban -- Church Street treats the citizens of Burlington like children. Other, bigger cities have dealt with these issues for a long time. It's not against the law to loiter on Market Street in San Francisco (as opposed to other SF streets). It may, however, be against the law to accost passersby for money, generally. Let's face it, the problem is not the sitting, it's the panhandling, it's the unsolicited interactions. This law is like passing a law against standing and facing walls in order to limit public urination.

In the 80s the targets of these sorts of maneuvers were often my friends -- not panhandlers but counter culture weirdos (read: punk rockers) who the Church St. shop owners didn't like hanging out on Church St. because they looked weird. My response now is the same as then: get over yourselves. These are the people who live in your city. Church Street is a public space with accommodations literally built for loitering (benches, street vendors, etc.). I'm sorry if you don't like the looks or behavior of some of your neighbors. Feel free to move, but stop trying to sculpt some pristine culture on Church St. It's a city street and public space and it's going to reflect the culture of the city -- both the parts you like and the parts you don't.

Bill are you saying it would be better to ban the begging itself? I guess could see that option making sense too.

Or perhaps one should be required to obtain a permit before begging. You have to have a permit to play music for money, or to provide goods for money. Why not a permit to be allowed to beg?

I can see it now...

Panhandler: "I'd like a permit to beg on Church Street please..."

City Hall: "The permit fee will be $1000."

are you saying it would be better to ban the begging itself?

No, I'm saying existing laws that govern abusive or aggressive behavior generally are enough and that special laws for certain streets are a bad idea -- particularly a ban on something as open to interpretation as "loitering" or as general as "sitting." How about a ban on "being an asshole" or "smelling bad?" That would give the cops broad authority to keep out those unwanted elements too.

"Nah, dollars to donots, the whole shot was staged for the 7dvt 'story'."

If you read the original column, you'll see that she is, indeed, a real person who was sitting on the sidewalk asking for money.

"If you read the original column, you'll see that she is, indeed, a real person who was sitting on the sidewalk asking for money."

Yeah, and the very next day, I saw her again, in the same spot. She was clean and well-groomed, and she was wearing clean, laundered clothes, different than the ones she was wearing in this picture. She obviously did not sleep on the street overnight. She did not spend the night in a tent or in the woods. Why is this kid, who looks like she would easily fit in on the UVM campus, begging for money???

Reading through these comments makes me think that the public education campaigns Burlington really needs are for us to teach people about what homelessness is like, and about the First Amendment.

Hardly anyone spanges for fun and profit. If they had things together at all and just wanted to make some money on the street, they'd be strumming a guitar or juggling. They're in difficult situations-- ones that would NOT be solved by selling their shoes!

But regardless of whether people begging for money in public is desirable, you can't control the content of speech in any way without plunging down the slippery slope. Once you've passed the Rubicon of having the government judge whether speech is legal based on its content, there's endless potential for abuses and chilling effects.

Freedom is uncomfortable, of course. It's difficult. But the only alternative is oppression.

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