Worcester Passes Ordinance to Limit Panhandling, Similar to Springfield Law

The Worcester City Council passed an ordinance on Tuesday limiting so-called “aggressive panhandling.” The law officially went into effect Wednesday. Springfield has a similar law on the books, but panhandling still persists in the city.

Worcester’s new law doesn’t ban soliciting money in public places, but it does limit where and how a person can panhandle. People can no longer beg aggressively – no touching, blocking, or using profane or threatening language when soliciting passerby’s for money – and no more panhandling on traffic islands or city streets. Solicitors must also stay twenty feet away from banks, ATM’s, and public transportation. City Councilor Sarai Rivera was one of two councilors who opposed the ordinance. She says the law doesn’t do enough to address systemic issues of homelessness and poverty, and doesn’t prevent begging in the city.

“It doesn’t prevent people from panhandling, it just prevents them from panhandling in certain areas. So how does that solve our issue of panhandling?”

Springfield has outlawed aggressive panhandling, with many of the same provisions as Worcester, since 1996. But Sergeant John Delaney says panhandling, particularly in traffic, is still a problem in the city.

“They’re stopped at a red light, and these individuals are brazen, they come up to the doors and windows, and  they knock on the door, demanding money, and they feel uneasy, the drivers feel uneasy. They don’t want to roll down the window, they’re pretty forceful in what they’re doing.”

Delaney says police make an effort to find shelters for panhandlers, who are often homeless, but says police occasionally arrest aggressive panhandlers. And he says the law itself hasn’t stopped aggressive solicitors in the city.