Homeless community reacts to Rochester police recommendation of banning panhandling

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(ABC 6 News) – More and more panhandlers are seen along Rochester roads, at intersections, and even approaching people at gas stations.

To help curb the activity, the Rochester Police Department (RPD) is recommending the city put a ban on daytime panhandlers. The ban was brought before the council on Wednesday night during a study session. However, if the council were to go ahead with passing a ban on panhandling, it could violate the First Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in the 2015 Reed v. Town of Gilbert case that panhandling is protected under the First Amendment as it covers, “charitable appeals for funds.”

Still, the talk of banning panhandling in the City of Rochester frightens those who go out and do it daily. Panhandlers have described this proposition by RPD as inhumane, one even calling it horrifying.

They say they’re not out here to make anyone feel uncomfortable or cause any harm, but simply ask for whatever help they can get.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin believes panhandlers are causing a public safety threat.

“I’ve seen it happen right in front of me, a car in the right-hand lane to go left holding out a dollar and the person trying to go get the dollar looked like a frogger game dodging traffic, that’s a public safety issue,” said Chief Franklin

But panhandlers like Chris, who’s been on Rochester streets for nearly five years, believes this is an inaccurate assessment of their situation. Chris wants people to know they’re simply in need of a helping hand.

“I want them to know that we’re not all that bad. Some of us are just addicts, others aren’t. But we’re all the same and anything they can do to help, will help,” he said.

Chris didn’t want to tell ABC 6 News his last name as he’s had run ins with Rochester police claiming they harassed him and are even responsible for him being kicked out of his home a few years ago.

On top of the proposed panhandle ban is a proposed daytime camping ban within city limits from RPD. RPD said they recommend the daytime ban as people would have more available places to go during the day rather than at night.

A council member in support of a daytime camping ordinance ban is Shaun Palmer.

“I for one think we should have the daytime camping ban now, get an ordinance sooner than later,” said Councilmember Palmer.

ABC 6 News reached out to Palmer for a comment but he didn’t return our calls.

Meanwhile, Chris says he doesn’t believe all councilmembers truly understood a situation like his. He wants them to see it from his perspective before a final decision is made — but says nobody’s asking.

“They should think about if they were in our situation and they would probably be out here doing it too.” Even if it does pass, Chris says he can’t afford to stop. “I know I am going to keep doing it and take the chance of going to jail.”

ABC 6 News reached out to RPD for further comment and they released a statement saying: “We are seeking additional tools to effectively respond to people experiencing homelessness and look forward to continued conversation with city leaders.”