Newark's effort to combat panhandling includes summonses to drivers

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey's largest city has announced a new initiative to combat panhandling that includes issuing summonses to drivers who stop to give them money.

Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose says the two-pronged strategy is designed to improve safety and traffic flow in intersections and off-ramps where panhandlers tend to congregate.

The first part of the strategy is to offer panhandlers, most of whom he says are drug addicted and homeless, services to get them help.

Newark Hope One, a police mobile unit that offers addiction recovery services, mental health services and housing assistance, have made rounds on the city streets where most panhandling occurs and will continue to do so.

"I see a lot of humans, but not enough humanity," mental health counselor Jose Dipini said. "I engage them in services. A lot of them don't know what to do when you receive benefits."

So far this year, Hope One has referred about 75 people to drug rehabilitation programs, and almost 50 to mental health services.

"I'm pleased Hope One Newark is making an impact in meeting the needs of those addicted, suffering from mental illness or living homeless," Ambrose said. "We're coming to them, and giving them a pathway to improve their lives."

The second part of the strategy includes greater enforcement of the city's "delaying traffic" ordinance.

"People are well-meaning and want to help, but this is a safety issue," Ambrose said. "We have panhandlers wading into traffic at busy exit ramps off Route 280 or on McCarter Highway, which jeopardizes their own health. We had a female pedestrian killed on McCarter Highway just a few weeks ago."

Newark police have issues 90 summonses for delaying traffic to people stopping for panhandlers in the last few weeks.

"When a driver stops and gives a panhandler money, they're basically helping them feed bad habits," Ambrose said. "We want to discourage this, but while offering these panhandlers significant and meaningful help."

The summonses carries a $50 fine, plus court costs. In addition, they have issued more than 250 summonses for panhandling, which carries up to a $500 fine.

"All they're doing is locking people up," panhandler Curtis Michael said. "It's tough, man. I gotta just basically depend and hope that people are nice enough so I can get some food in my stomach."

He fears what will happen if he's unable to ask for money along the roadway.

"If they keep cracking down on people out here, it's going to force them to do other things," he said. "And we're not trying to do none of that, you know what I mean? We're just basically out here trying to survive."

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