Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski says the city will soon post signs around downtown Evanston to discourage making gifts to panhandlers.
Instead, Gandurski says, the signs will encourage making contributions to social service agencies that address homelessness issues and include a QR code that will link to a city web page where people can contribute to such groups.
The manager, speaking at a 1st Ward meeting Thursday evening, said she heard about the sign idea from officials in Rockford who told her that after they installed similar signs they saw aggressive panhandling “almost disappear.”
“I know that there’s been an increase in aggressive panhandling in the 1st Ward,” Gandurski said. “But it’s not unique to Evanston.”
She said the Rockford officials she spoke with told her they believe it’s happening in larger communities statewide and that the increase appears to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gandurski said it’s not safe for residents to open a wallet or purse on the street and that people begging on street corners may not actually be homeless.
She also said the city plans to provide information about the issue to Northwestern University students to try to discourage them from providing handouts.
Although she didn’t provide a date for the launch of the sign program, Gandurski said they should start appearing “very soon.”
On a related issue, the city’s parking manager, Mike Rivera, said that after a sharp cutback in security staffing at city garages when the pandemic dramatically cut into parking revenue, the city has been increasing security coverage to respond to issues of homeless people camping out in the garages.
The garages now have security coverage 20 hours a day, except between noon and 4 p.m., he said, and will soon again have round-the-clock coverage.
Rivera noted that the problem of people loitering in the garages has been most acute at the Sherman Plaza garage, where the stairwells are heated to keep the water-filled pipes of the fire suppression system from freezing.
The other two garages have dry standpipe systems that don’t have to be protected from freezing temperatures.