An association of about 20 restaurants and bars in South Baltimore’s nightlife-heavy Federal Hill neighborhood is asking locals to stop giving money to panhandlers.
They’d rather see those dollars go toward parking or gas, according to their newest social media campaign.
The Federal Hill Hospitality Association, a registered 501c(6) nonprofit, has recently begun posting such messages on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #reclaimBALTIMORE. In a series of posts starting earlier this month, the association has used the hashtag as an apparent rallying cry against loitering and panhandling in the South Baltimore neighborhood.
Tweets have tagged city officials – and in a couple of cases, the U.S. Justice Department – to bring the matter to their attention. They’ve also included somber black-and-white-filtered images of parking meters, change jars and gas pumps.
— Federal Hill ® (@FHHA21230) July 8, 2017
— Federal Hill ® (@FHHA21230) July 10, 2017
— Federal Hill ® (@FHHA21230) July 11, 2017
Responding to criticism on Twitter, the association posted a screenshot of the definition for “reclaim”:
— Federal Hill ® (@FHHA21230) July 13, 2017
Association president Brian McComas, owner of Ryleigh’s Oyster and a partner in the recently opened Crossbar, hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the social media activity.
Association vice president Paul Dolaway, owner of MaGerk’s Pub, and secretary Marc McFaul, owner of the Ropewalk Tavern, also haven’t returned messages requesting comment.
City law prohibits the practice of soliciting, defined as “any act by which 1 person requests an immediate donation of money or other thing of value from another or others in person, regardless of the solicitor’s purpose or intended use of the money or other thing of value.”
The practice is banned within 10 feet of an ATM, on public transit, personal or private property (at the owner’s discretion) and in streets or parking lots.
Those who do “solicit” can be punished with up to a $100 fine or a 30-day jail sentence for the first offense, or up to $250 and 90 days for additional offenses within the same year.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration mentioned panhandling as a problem in its 2017 Transition Report, recommending that the city “enforce laws prohibiting the dangerous practice of panhandling or washing windshields in traffic lanes.”
And yet, penalties and enforcement approaches haven’t stopped people from going poor or asking bystanders for money. Drivers can regularly see those individuals walking along traffic medians or sitting on street corners pleading for some financial assistance from more well-off pedestrians and commuters.
In Federal Hill, panhandlers can often be found near high-traffic areas like Light and Cross Streets.
Councilman Eric Costello, who represents the neighborhood, hasn’t returned a message left with his office.
Hillary Chester, director of Federal Hill Main Street, said “there’s a lot of different sides” to the debate over how to address panhandling and loitering, but otherwise declined to comment on the specifics. The hospitality association and Federal Hill Business Association both share a website with her group, which promotes economic development in the neighborhood, but otherwise operate separately, she said.
“All three organizations are working towards the same goal: to make Federal Hill a clean, safe, place to live, shop, visit,” she said. “At the heart of it, we all have the same goal. How we get there is up to our individual boards.”
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