Montpelier City Council votes against banning panhandlers

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Montpelier City Council on Wednesday rejected a measure aimed at getting rid of panhandlers downtown.

Business owners have complained that there's a growing number of people panhandling and hanging out outside of their stores.

The council drafted an ordinance to ban people from loitering in the streets. But critics say the measure criminalizes homelessness and further dehumanizes people living on the streets.

Business owners say homeless people are causing a major disturbance outside their stores and restaurants.

Councilors heard comments from the public on their thoughts on the proposal.

"We’re telling them they’re not people," one opponent said. "I think it’s important that our public spaces are for the public."

Business owners told the City Council that homeless people have been engaging in criminal activity outside of their stores.

"We got a surveillance camera. What we’ve seen is shocking and it’s downright scary," one business owner said. "There's drug dealing with young kids, it's a steady stream."

But not every business owner thinks a ban is an appropriate solution.

"What we need is local resources, access to shelter, public meals," said Alexa Gould-Kavet, a freelance assistant at Rebel Heart.

Lawrence Seiler, who says he was once homeless, said he agrees with Gould-Kavet.

"The more money you get, the more finances you get to help the homeless," he said. "You can talk until you’re blue in the face. The more help you get in terms of money, the more stuff you can get to help. That’s what it comes down to."

Ultimately, the council decided to vote against the ban.

"The problem is that there are unmet needs in our community," said council member Ashley Hill. "Which is why I’m really grateful to hear our mayor say that’s not where she’s interested in going and I’m with her."

The council also voted to continue advancing their partnership with the Social Justice Economic Committee and making sure people have access to information about getting the help they need.