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Mineola schedules public hearing on aggressive panhandlers

Mayor Scott Strauss said the law is meant to be a proactive step to help give police a needed “tool” in case they need to address the issue.

Mineola LIRR station on Friday May 11, 2018

Mineola LIRR station on Friday May 11, 2018 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Mineola is considering legislation that would make it the second village on Long Island to ban aggressive panhandling, particularly near its LIRR station.

Village officials have scheduled a public hearing Wednesday on the measure, which trustees could vote on that night.

Mayor Scott Strauss said last Wednesday that homeless people in the vicinity of the Long Island Rail Road station near NYU Winthrop Hospital will “from time to time” panhandle in the area. He said the village does not have a current problem with aggressive panhandling but is taking a proactive approach. Strauss said he met late last year with Nassau County police and homeless advocates to discuss what could be done if someone does panhandle too aggressively.

“The homeless advocates as well as the police department both believe that if we implement a law addressing the issue that, should a situation occur, they’ll [police will] have that tool already in their toolbox,” Strauss said. “So we’re kind of being proactive.”

John Imhof, commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Social Services, said Long Island’s high cost of living makes it difficult for the homeless to find housing.

“There persists an unfortunate and damaging stigma about people who are homeless,” Imhof said. “They are often perceived in disparaging and damaging stereotypes.”

Mineola has not yet released a draft of its panhandling legislation. Strauss said there was no particular incident that sparked it.

In October, the Village of Patchogue passed what trustees said was the first ban on aggressive panhandling on Long Island. The measure bans panhandlers from threatening, intimidating, disrupting or harassing residents, tourists or shoppers near banks, parking meters, schools, doorways, or ATMs. The village code says violators face a fine of at least $250.

Village attorney Brian Egan, who wrote Patchogue’s panhandling measure, said no one has violated the law since its passage. But he said Suffolk County police will be on alert for aggressive panhandling as the summer approaches and foot traffic increases in downtown Patchogue.

Egan said Patchogue’s law accounts for panhandling being legal in New York, but it also prohibits anyone from invading a person’s personal space when soliciting.

Egan stressed that the public should not view Patchogue’s law or Mineola’s proposed legislation as an attack on the poor.

“This is not a law that targets homelessness or people’s economic status,” he said. “This is a public safety law.”

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