PORTLAND — As he panhandled inches from rush-hour traffic, Tony Sargent said the Portland City Council should make it illegal to stand on median strips.

It’s not safe, said Sargent, 35, from Florida.

His statement didn’t make sense, “considering I’m out here now,” he said. “But it’s dangerous for us, and dangerous for vehicles on the road. Technically, we’re in the middle of the road. Big trucks come by; they come close to me.”

Sargent’s opinion may be in the minority among Portland panhandlers. Others said they should have access to medians and motorists’ cash.

Standing in front of Trader Joe’s, another said he’s opposed to the ban.

If they are kicked off, “we’re going to be standing on Congress Street instead. You’ll see us on sidewalks instead of here,” said Andy, 33, from Portland.

Not being allowed on medians would make it difficult to raise money, he said. “There’s only so many spots.”

On a sidewalk at the corner of Brighton and Park avenues, Jason, 23, from Portland, said he understands why the city is considering banning median panhandling. “It’s a safety risk. There’s just so many people doing it.”

It doesn’t look good for the city, he said. “It’s tourist season. But for somebody who doesn’t have a job, it’s the only way to get any money. There are a few people who aren’t spending it all on drugs and stuff like that.”

It’s true that help is given to the poor at the Preble Street Resource Center, which provides meals, food, shelter, clothing and medical care. But it’s nice, he said, “to have perks like everybody else has. It’s nice to be able and go out and buy new socks, deodorant, razors.”

He doesn’t work because he was a student. “I was going to (Southern Maine Community College) for a little while.” He shared an apartment with a friend. The friend moved out. “I lost the apartment because I couldn’t afford to pay for it by myself. I ended up on the street.”

Brad Brooks, 23, from Massachusetts, who was panhandling on a median near the post office, is opposed to a ban. It would be a violation of freedom of speech, he said. Brooks said he understood why it’s being considered.

Some panhandlers “are hammered by noon,” he said. Others don’t need to be doing it, which makes it worse for those who do.

He said he has the best of intentions. “This is only my third time doing this. I stay in my space.” He was holding a sign that read, “Going through hard times, anything helps,” because he lost his job.

Sargent, the man on the St. John Street median, said he came to Portland from Florida several months ago when his wife left for Maine with his daughter. He said he’s working with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for reunification.

“I left my condo and my job in Florida to come here,” he said. “With the economy so bad, I can’t even find a job at McDonald’s.”

He said he went to college, served in the military and worked as a subcontractor remodeling kitchens. “Give me some wood; I can build you a house,” Sargent said. “You’d think something like this wouldn’t happen. This is the lowest I’ve been.”

He added, “There are better days ahead.”

Portland’s Panhandlers

City may ban beggars as rising number of vagrants seek to raise ‘median’ income.


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