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Hand Outs Get More Thumbs Down

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Another city group is trying to shoo people away from panhandlers, but no one can say why it has suddenly become so necessary.

 

Barely two months after the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership began posting uniformed Safety Ambassadors a few feet from panhandlers, the Oakland Business Improvement District is set to launch its own "awareness campaign," according to Executive Director Georgia Petropoulous.

 

Starting Sept. 5, more than a dozen OBID staff and volunteers will come out every Tuesday through Thursday to hand out fliers at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Atwood Street, advising passersby about the city's ordinance against aggressive panhandling, and suggesting places to donate money to help the homeless. OBID officials say their campaign is aimed especially at university freshmen, who may not be aware of the law.

 

"What we want to do is to remind students that aggressive panhandling is illegal," says Petropoulous, "and [make sure] that they know the distinction between aggressive panhandling and panhandling."

 

Last December, Pittsburgh City Council passed a law prohibiting panhandling within 25 feet of a café, a house of worship, an outdoor dining area, a ticket booth or an automatic teller machine, as well as aggressive panhandling practices, including touching without permission, threatening gestures or "approaching or speaking to a person, or following a person ... if that conduct is intended or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm."

 

But both city and University of Pittsburgh police say there has been no discernible increase in complaints against panhandlers since the ordinance went into effect.

 

City police Zone 4 officers, whose territory includes Oakland, have cited a few panhandlers in the neighborhood, but most of the others have learned to play by the new rules, reports one of the Zone's lieutenants.

 

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations at Pitt, says the new law has been "a tremendous help" in keeping panhandling in check, and that the start of a school year is typically a busy time for handout pleas. Even so, Wilds allows, "we haven't had a groundswell of complaints just yet" about aggressive panhandlers.

 

OBID's campaign may be aimed at students like Aieshya Dixon and Chadra Pinkston. As freshmen, they received tips for handling panhandlers at student orientation. But the pair, now seniors, recall giving money to anyone who held their hands out ... until they saw the same faces day after day. 

 

Today, they've noticed the panhandler ranks thinning in Oakland. They used to form a gauntlet on certain blocks of Forbes nearest Pitt. On a late August evening, no panhandler was in sight on this typically teeming intersection.

 

Pitt sophomore Justin Jacobs, walking briskly by, said the regulars always leave him alone when he asks them to; occasionally, he will hand them a spare sandwich. He wonders why there is a need to warn anyone away from charity.

 

Says Jacobs: "People who hand out leaflets are more annoying than the panhandlers."

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