Saratoga Springs City Council strikes down ordinance on panhandling

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Saratoga Springs City Council narrowly voted to strike down an ordinance that would have restricted “aggressive solicitation” in the city. The proposed legislation, which failed by a 3-2 vote, comes as visitors and businesses complain about aggressive panhandling.

In part, the ordinance defined aggressive solicitation as making physical contact with some or following them around.

“The ordinance would not prohibit asking someone for money. It limits the places and the manner in which the request can be made,” said Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino, who proposed the ordinance at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

The vote comes as the city continues to swell with tourists during the busy summer season. Montagnino says visitors and local businesses have continued to lodge complaints about the issue.

“It’s not that people are complaining that someone asks them for money, it’s that people complain when they’re being followed and harassed about it,” he explained.

But while these complaints continue, and seemingly escalate as more people are in Saratoga, some believe the failed ordinance wasn’t necessary to begin with.

“We already have laws on the books that prohibit harassment and aggressive behavior. We were concerned, as service providers, that it would unfairly target the poorer folks in our city,” said Sybil Newell, Executive Director of RISE, a Saratoga-based organization that provides housing and support services.

The organization provides outreach to the homeless throughout the city, including to those living in an encampment near the Saratoga Springs Train Station.

While she says panhandling is inevitable, it’s best to donate directly to organizations like hers instead, “It’s just a more effective way to really create change,” she explained, noting that giving money to someone on the street only provides assistance in the moment.

The city is also taking steps to better assist the homeless, including providing Saratoga Cares cards to local businesses. These cards help guide business owners on how to connect the homeless to available and valuable resources.

“We think it’s going to be really helpful for people to know who to actually call in an emergency,” said Newell.

While these types of efforts continue, she says it appears the number of homeless people in the city has remained relatively stable.

Montagnino says other resources, like more available affordable housing in the city, could also better assist in addressing the issue.

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