CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston leaders are eyeing a crackdown on panhandling in the city.
City Attorney Paul Ellis said he is working on an ordinance that would prohibit panhandlers from soliciting money in an "aggressive" fashion but said the particulars are still being worked out. One issue under consideration is whether to bar begging near ATMs.
"I haven't come up with the exact distance yet, but we will put a specific distance in the ordinance," Ellis said. "It won't say 'close proximity.' "
Ellis is working with the National Coalition for the Homeless and the American Civil Liberties Union to craft the ordinance, he said. He also has sought input from jurisdictions with similar laws.
The ordinance also will prohibit panhandlers from blocking traffic and soliciting within a specific distance of a liquor store, public restrooms, bus stops or playgrounds, he said.
"The ordinance wouldn't preclude people from asking for money, but it would keep them from doing it in an aggressive manner or in certain venues," Ellis said.
He hopes to have a draft prepared within a month.
Downtown business owners said panhandling is a real problem and that it scares away customers.
Ann Saville, owner of two downtown businesses, said the problem is worse now than in the past.
"It seems to be getting worse year by year," she said. "Now they're coming into the store."
Saville owns Taylor Books on Capitol Street and Charleston Brewing Co. on Quarrier Street.
"It's not good," she said. "We're hoping to attract more tourists to the city, and it's a deterrent when people know they could be accosted."
She acknowledges the problem doesn't have an easy solution.
"I don't know what we can do about it, and that's the problem," she said. "And the solution is just so difficult."
At least one city councilman is ready to support a crackdown on panhandling.
Councilman Robert Sheets, a Democrat representing a portion of the East End and downtown, said he wants to see law enforcement be able to take a more proactive approach to dealing with panhandling.
He's heard from people who have been frightened by aggressive panhandlers.