City of Cedar Rapids sees increase in panhandling and panhandling complaints

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - The city of Cedar Rapids says there's been an increase in the amount of panhandlers and the amount of people calling to complain about them.

Now city council is working on an ordinance that would limit the kind of places people panhandle at.

One woman who recently moved back to Cedar Rapids says things are different, and she has had too many bad run-ins with panhandlers.

"The areas are the same, but there's more and they're constant and now they walk up to the cars and sometimes knock on the windows,” Jessie Sull said, “My sister was cornered at a grocery store over on Mount Vernon, I've been cornered at the Post Office downtown Cedar Rapids as well as Wal-Mart off of Blairs Ferry."

City council member Scott Olson says many of the panhandlers aren't usually homeless, they're professionals.

"Those professional panhandlers have increased in number because the city of Cedar Rapids doesn't have an ordinance, and now the word has spread that we can't enforce the panhandling that is going on at these intersections, and so of course we're seeing more and more panhandlers come in to Cedar Rapids,” Olson said.

He also says police officers hand out cards to the panhandlers with a list of resources like homeless shelters and food pantries.

The ordinance he’s working on would limit the places people can panhandle. It will outline five places that will be off limits; controlled intersections with stoplights, exits off of interstates, ATM machines, public buses and in parking ramps.

"We want to try and create an ordinance that gives police the authority to tell people that yes you can still panhandle, but you can't panhandle at these five locations where someone might feel trapped,” Olson said.

Olson says he hopes to have the ordinance presented to city council by January.