One of the city's new anti-panhandling signs, on Chicago Avenue.

It’s a fact of life in Evanston business districts.

Walk down the street, and someone with a cup is likely to ask you for money. And if you say “no,” they’ll ask you to buy them a sandwich.

Now, the city has a message: Don’t do it. Don’t give them anything. It’s better to contribute to social service agencies.

Signs are going up at 19 locations around town, which state “Have a Heart. Give Smart.”

The signs add that “Panhandling isn’t safe,” and says “Donate to social service organizations today.”

The number of beggars is apparently increasing, and they are becoming more insistent as well.

“Aggressive panhandling is a big problem down on Main Street,” says Katherine Gotsick, executive director of the Main/Dempster Mile marketing organization.

Gotsick says that aggresive panhandling “seems to have picked up since the pandemic.”

She notes “there’s an individual or two we’ve gotten very familiar with who are especially aggressive.”

Gotsick says it’s not as bad nor as frequent on Dempster Street.

In the central business core, Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, says “Panhandling is an issue for all parties.” Not only can it be unsafe for the panhandlers, Coakley notes, but “we frequently hear from residents and shoppers that they feel uncomfortable being asked for money.”

In panhandling, as with other businesses, the key is “location, location, location.”

Beggars station themselves at high-pedestrian-volume areas. Whole Foods on Chicago Avenue often has one or more panhandler in front. And customers of the Target store on Sherman Avenue frequently become, well, they become targets.

Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski came up with the idea for the signs, based on similar ones in Rockford that she said helped make aggressive panhandling “almost disappear.”

The Evanston signs have the phone number for Connections for the Homeless, along with a city website page with links to social service agencies.

The agencies are places where people can contribute money, and are also organizations that help the needy with food, housing, employment and mental health services.

City spokesperson Patrick Deignan says Evanston is putting up 19 signs in various locations “where aggressive panhandling has been observed or reported.”

Deignan says the city will see if the signs have any impact before deciding whether to put up more.

He says that the uptick in panhandling is a nationwide problem not limited to Evanston.

The goal of the signage, Deignan says, is to better help those who are begging for money or food, while at the same time assisting businesses who are trying to attract more shoppers or diners, as tho businesses try to recover from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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3 Comments

  1. Why doesn’t the EPD put an officer or two on a walking beat. On main street. Also becoming a problem is the men/boys in the atrium st targets parking garage. They are approaching individuals leaving target and going to the elevators following you. When you tell them they can go on first, they say no you. When you don’t get on they don’t. I inform them that I am packing and am not afraid to pull out my protection. That seems to get them to move along. I have called several times to 311, and non emergency EPD and the problem still exist

  2. I think they’re just trying to reduce the neighborhood’s anger so that Connections for the Homeless & City of Evanston can push their Margarita Inn homeless shelter through.

    Apparently it’s technically a “rooming house” probably to avoid having to apply for a zoning variance. Is this the same Evanston that pushed so hard against allowing Air B&Bs? That wouldn’t let students with different last names reside in the same house??

    Those who know about it in the downtown area are mad about this, not just because of an 84-room 5-story homeless shelter plonked down next to an already struggling downtown, but because the City does what it wants, bending its own rules to suit itself and favoring its causes over its actual residents. (They donated 500,000 to Connections for the Homeless in 2020…) I’m all for helping the homeless and believe everyone deserves a life with dignity and self-respect, but shoving people in an unsupervised dormitory is not real help, and that’s what Connections has been doing over the past couple years.

  3. Well I also blame Albany Care. They let any and everyone stay at that facility. Also I blame the system for letting down the men and women struggling with mental issues. There is nowhere for them to go and receive the help and treatment that they deserve. And so many have alcohol and drug dependency problems. We need a solution and fast because it is out of control especially on Chicago Avenue. I feel sorry for the neighbors of that area.

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