Tupelo prepares to crack down on panhandling, loitering

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – The city of Tupelo is looking to crack down on aggressive panhandling and loitering.

The Tupelo City Council will soon consider a public solicitation ordinance that was crafted after numerous complaints from business owners and private citizens who say it is time for the city to take action.

In the 20-plus years that Kelly Fowler has been at the Shoe and Boot Outlet, she has seen an increase in homeless people in the area. She said she has also seen a rise in trespassing, panhandling, and other activity that can have a negative impact on business.

“They rummage through our trash and leave it out so we have to pick it up later,” said Fowler.

A building in the rear of the business has been a frequent hangout for the homeless, and Fowler said discarded syringes and other trash were a common sight.

Those types of complaints prompted the city to propose a public solicitation ordinance. It would be wide-ranging and focus on loitering and panhandling.

“This would not only cover panhandling itself but any type of hanging out in intersections, public rights of way,” said Assistant City Attorney Stephen Reed. “Loitering would be banned within 50 feet of an intersection when the streets have a daily traffic count of at least 2,000 vehicles per day.”

The city has also received a lot of complaints from individuals, mainly females, who say they feel threatened by aggressive panhandlers, who don’t take no for an answer. The assistant city attorney said it is all about public safety.

“There’s always the trespassing aspect, in state law, if people are on your property doing things you don’t wish to be there. You can always have them removed but there is an aspect of the proposal that will allow business owners to mark their property for no solicitation, but if it takes place at that point police can come in and remove people from your property,” said Reed.

Fowler is thankful the city is looking out for small businesses, and their customers.

“We want to stay here. We have been here for 40 years. We don’t plan on going anywhere. We are grateful the city has taken action at this time,” said Fowler.

City and business leaders point out there are a number of services available for the homeless who want to get off the streets.

Although the proposed ordinance has been tabled for Tuesday night’s meeting, the council is expected to vote on it in the near future.

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