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Northampton Business Owners are Upset with Panhandlers

PANHANDLINGNORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WGGB) — Panhandlers in Northampton are a problem for some businesses there and they say after contacting several city officials, nothing has been done about it.

ABC40 went to a couple of places to find out what they plan on doing next.

A Main Street business owner we talked with who didn’t want to be identified on camera, but she’s been in the area for years, told us she’s fed up with panhandlers making her and her customers uncomfortable.

“Some of them are very aggressive. I also know that there’s girls, high school girls that pop into my store. You ask them if you can help, they say no, they pop into my store to get away from ‘the creepy guy’ that’s making comments sitting out front on the bench or sitting down the street,” she says.

Treya Crisfulli, who works not too far away at Deals on Main echoes the sentiment.

“We see them out in the streets, begging for money, and I think if the city focused a little more on that, maybe we could make some sort of effort to get the people off the streets,” adds Crisfulli.

In 2008, then Mayor Mary Claire Higgins proposed an ordinance that would have outlawed panhandling.  American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Bill Higgins fought against it, saying it was unconstitutional.

“In Massachusetts, as under the federal constitution as well, a person has a right to beg, a person has the right to panhandle, a person has the right to ask for assistance, for money. If I ask you for money, you can walk by and flip me the bird, you can say nothing, you can say something disparaging, that is a right we all have,” says Higgins.

City Councilor Paul Spector has served Ward 2 for years and says this issue resurfaces every time the weather starts to warm up.

“We need to separate panhandling from behavior you’re already not allowed to do. Aggressive, threatening behavior of any kind is not allowed. So I think what happens is we confuse the issue of panhandling with other issues,” explains Spector.

Business owners also say they reached out to the police, Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District to take action.

None were available for comment though.

Mayor David Narckewickz says they work with business owners and encourage them, along with visitors and residents to call Northampton police if they feel they are being harassed.

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