SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah city leaders say they’ve seen an increase in aggressive panhandling. The city council met Thursday for a workshop to hear a plan that would work to address this issue.
Panhandling for the city of Savannah has become an increasing problem even more so now that we’re living in the middle of a pandemic.
“Some areas we’re experiencing more aggressive panhandling or solicitation including in medians that are fairly narrow around town that impacts public safety,” Communications Director for the City of Savannah, Nick Zoller said.
Panhandling is protected by the first amendment, the right to free speech, so the city can’t get rid of the problem altogether.
“I don’t believe we’re looking to say don’t do this. I believe we’re looking to say how can we help individuals in a better way and a long-term way,” Zoller said.
The city is working on a new educational campaign to collect data and learn exactly where the panhandling is happening. District 1 Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier encourages the city to speak directly to the panhandlers to see how they feel.
“Invite them in and let them sit at the table and say what do you want and what do you need? How could we help you?” Lanier said.
Leaders will then need to decide whether this will be a teaching campaign or a way to collect donations to encourage the homeless to get long-term help.
“We would also need to design, produce, and install signage encouraging the public not to give to panhandlers,” Zoller said.
Council members say this is a good step forward from not only a safety standpoint but also to clean up the city.
“We definitely have an immediate need in getting our right of ways and medians cleaned up,” District 5 Alderwoman Estella Shabazz said.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said that at the core of this issue these are still people and the city has a responsibility for them.
“I don’t ever want us to think about them as an afterthought or as a side note because they’re unsightly to visitors,” Johnson said.
A panhandling campaign could start by January.