Indianapolis reaches agreement with panhandlers

Panhandlers will have to stick to the sidewalk under a new agreement with the city of Indianapolis that settles a federal lawsuit.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last August in which panhandlers bucked Mayor Greg Ballard's high-profile effort to run them out of downtown Indianapolis.

Four panhandlers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said city police had tried to drive them off sidewalks even though they were complying with existing ordinances. The ACLU said in its lawsuit that the crackdown violated panhandlers' First Amendment rights.

Under the agreement filed in federal court Friday, begging along roadways and directed at passing motorists will not be allowed. Begging on the sidewalk is fine, as long as it's directed at pedestrians and it isn't aggressive.

The city also agreed to drop or consider dismissing citations against several panhandlers.

City officials had no immediate comment.

Ballard proposed the ban last year after he said officials had received numerous complaints about people begging for money along downtown streets. Existing city ordinances limited panhandling to daylight hours and set other restrictions, but Ballard said the city needed to do more.

Panhandlers downtown often hold signs declaring they are homeless, but Ballard said studies by the Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention found that almost none of them really were homeless.

Panhandling cost the city about $6.3 million in visitor spending annually, according to the mayor's office, because it turns off tourists and convention-goers.

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