Center City Hires Panhandler Patrol

By Bill Dries

The Center City Commission has approved the hiring of two security guards to help curb aggressive panhandling Downtown.

On a unanimous voice vote, 17 board members of the Downtown development body approved a $53,340 contract with CDA Security for a three month patrol starting in April in the Main Street area between Poplar Avenue and Beale Street.

After three months, the CCC will review the effectiveness of the patrol. The CCC took the action after years of complaints about panhandlers who don’t just ask for money, but also follow those who turn them down and in some cases even spit and curse at them. About 20 protestors showed up for today’s meeting, many holding signs reading “housing not harassment.”

Jacob Flowers, executive director of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, said the patrols will unfairly target the homeless.

“As the Center City Commission spends this money to criminalize the homeless, Memphis has no free shelter for homeless persons,” Flowers said. “If the Center City Commission and the residents of Downtown want to reduce the number of homeless persons they see outside their front door, they must work and support programs that will actually address the root causes of poverty.”

Protestor Peter Gathje went a step further.

“Jesus was very clear. If somebody asks you for money, give it to them,” he said. “That is Jesus speaking in the Bible. … Why do we keep using the Bible to beat people up? That’s what is happening here.”

But Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford countered that the goal of the patrol is to discourage panhandlers who are not homeless but beg and harass those Downtown as a way of making a living. He also agreed with Flowers that there is a need for a free shelter for the homeless and more counseling programs.

Downtown resident Mike King told the CCC board that the panhandling problem has worsened over the years.

“I cannot go a single block without getting barrages, without getting harassed. It doesn’t matter where you go in Downtown Memphis, you are constantly harassed by these aggressive panhandlers,” he said. “These are the same people we see every day, every week, every month and have been seeing for years.”