Meridian leaders seek solutions to panhandling problem Council member: 'This is a real concern'

Paula Merritt  / The Meridian Star

A woman sits next to her shopping cart near the Frontage Road entrance to Bonita Lakes Mall in Meridian Tuesday. City leaders are looking at ways to stop panhandling, an issue that brought business owners to a work session at city hall.  

Meridian city leaders are looking at ways to stop panhandling, an issue that brought business owners to a work session at city hall Tuesday. 

Council member Kim Houston, who represents Ward 4, said the city has been meeting with Lauderdale County and business owners to address the problem. 

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“There is a real concern," she said. "We were trying to take care of our homeless population, but now it’s become a place that folks come to take advantage of us.”

Richie McAlister, the city's chief administrative officer, said panhandling is hurting businesses on Frontage Road. He pointed to resources available to people in need. 

"We have multiple outreach entities in the city and you have the ability to get three meals a day. At the same time, you also have the availability to have a bed at night," he said.

Eric Johannsen, owner of Interstate Auto on Frontage Road, asked the city to put something in place to protect business owners and the integrity of the city.

“They’ve got their own tiny little business going on and it's right at a stop sign at a busy intersection,” he said.

Meridian leaders seek solutions to panhandling problem Council member: 'This is a real concern'

Paula Merritt  / The Meridian Star

A woman holds a sign asking for help on Frontage Road near Highway 19 in Meridian Tuesday. Officials are looking at ways to address panhandling around the city. 

 

 

Johannsen said he's also struggled with people leaving trash, fighting or becoming verbally abusive when he asks them to leave his property.

“I don’t have to be aggressive. I can just say, ‘Hey, this is private property. Move on,’ and I get cussed, I get threatened, and it’s just not something that can be dealt with long-term,” Johannsen said. 

Meridian Police Capt. John Griffith discussed three potential ideas he said he learned from Wichita, Kansas, including one that would make it illegal to take or give money in a high-traffic area. 

"I think we have to look at it from a lot of different angles," he said.

Panhandling is unsafe for the people in the street and prevents the free flow of traffic, Griffith said. 

Ward 2 council member Tyrone Johnson said after the meeting that he wanted to address the concerns of the business community while protecting citizens. 

“I would rather look at a situation in a positive manner of how are we going to help them, opposed to create ordinances that’s going to at some point, hinder them,” he said. 

Mayor Percy Bland told the business owners the city would continue to do research. 

"It's very important that we can enforce something that means something," he said. "We hear what you're saying." 

  

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