Last week the town of Bennington’s Select Board voted to approve a series of controversial amendments to an ordinance which would greatly restrict panhandling, penalize the homeless from sleeping in their vehicles, and prohibit citizens from misrepresenting how they use the proceeds from panhandling. The Bennington Banner has more on the new measures and the protests they have sparked:
protests…organized by Bennington Selectman Jim Carroll and local activist and secretary of the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless Mary Gerisch…lashed out at all aspects of the amendment. [Signs] “Brother can you spare some sense?” read one, while others argued, “Sleeping in your car should not be a crime when it’s all you have” and “Asking for help should not be illegal.” Some of the signs asked for the town to focus on solving the problem of homelessness, rather than forcing the homeless out of Bennington. “Keep your coins, I want social change,” read one, while a second read “Solve the problem, don’t move it.” The amendment to the town’s “Improper Use of Public Way and Abatement of Public Nuisances” ordinance, which was approved by the Select Board on Monday, but will not go into effect for 60 days, will heavily restrict soliciting in all forms, and ban what the amendment defines as “aggressive soliciting,” on publicly owned property. Particularly controversial is Article 17.4 Section I, which states that “No vehicle parked on a public street, highway, sidewalk or other public place shall be used as housing or for the purpose of sleeping beyond that of a short rest for the purpose of safety,” which many worry will adversely affect the homeless population of Bennington.