MANCHESTER — Getting a handle on aggressive panhandling, harassing, rude and illegal behavior looms large enough a concern to downtown merchants and patrons that the Greater Manchester Economic Development Summit today will devote a session to it.
“Anyone who walks down the street or does business in Manchester will agree this is an issue which can be a deterrent to attracting people to our city,” chamber vice president of marketing and public relations Gemma Waite French said Tuesday.
Learning how other New England cities have dealt with aggressive panhandling will be the focus of one of the six workshops at the first annual economic development summit.
Other workshops will address education, transportation and downtown economic development issues. They include discussing challenges created by the Port of Portsmouth’s inability to accommodate the newest class of super freighters and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport’s decline in passenger travel. Workshops also will address education, key infrastructure projects, and south Manchester’s potential for economic development.
The day-long summit will be held at the Radisson Hotel. It begins at 8 a.m. with welcoming remarks. Marketing expert and author Andrew Davis will give keynote address entitled “Stake your Claim: How brilliant towns, cities, states and regions get rich by targeting a niche.”
Since last year, Manchester has been seeking solutions to aggressive panhandling and other nuisance behaviors such as public urination, defecation, public illicit drug use.
Today, city leaders, business people, economic development experts and others will learn how Burlington, Vt., and Portland, Maine, dealt with the issue.
Burlington, which is Vermont’s largest city with a year-round population of about 35,000, addresses aggressive panhandling with outreach, education and collaboration among social service agencies, civic leaders, merchants and police.
“We make sure panhandlers know what their rights are. They should know what’s not allowed,” said Matt Young, a supervisor at the HowardCenter Street Outreach Team in Burlington, a mental health center that serves Chittendon County.
“The police don’t want to ticket people. They don’t want people to act out. It’s a group effort to address a lot of things downtown, not just panhandling,” Young explained.
The center’s Street Outreach Team distributes copies of the city’s aggressive panhandling ordinance to panhandlers so “everyone knows what the rules are,” he said.
This is especially important each spring when the city gets an influx of itinerant people who travel from city to city, Young said.
“They come here, they don’t know the rules. They become intoxicated. They sleep in the parks and they get into trouble,” he explained. Problems generally subside by early summer through public education, outreach and community policing, Young added. One of his Street Outreach Team members, Tammy Boudah, will be a panelist at today’s summit.
Portland has had an aggressive panhandling ordinance for about six years and last month passed an ordinance barring loitering in median strips, said Chris O’Neil, who is city hall liaison to the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce and also a panelist.
“Being the Chamber of Commerce, we think the best approach is better economic opportunity for everyone...It isn’t all about enforcement. It’s about the community working organically to solve it owns problems,” O’Neil said.
The Portland chamber is about to launch a public awareness campaign suggesting people donate whatever they would give to a panhandler to a charity instead. That way “you know every penny is going to go to help people in need,” O’Neil said.
“If panhandling goes from being an $8 an hour gig to a $2 an hour gig, there will be fewer panhandlers,” he added.
Manchester Police Chief David Mara also will sit on the panhandling workshop.