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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The City-County Council on Monday night discussed a proposed ordinance reducing panhandlers and the homeless from congregating on downtown streets. 

Ordinance Proposal No. 357 limits the time a person can sit or lay on a public space in the Downtown Mile Square to between midnight and 6 a.m. only. Public right of way includes sidewalks and curbs, medians, railways, alleys and parking spaces. 

Councillors Michael McQuillen, Susie Cordi, and John Wesseler wrote in the ordinance that its purpose is to “promote health, public safety, and business within the Mile Square.” 

If someone is in violation of the ordinance, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers would send or take that person to an emergency shelter, mental health facility or to other interventional services. If there’s no space available at the shelters, the ordinance won’t be enforced. 

Exceptions to the ordinance include anyone sitting for a parade, protest, bus stop or a medical emergency. 

Business owner Danielle Cooney said she has a heart for the homeless and believes the ordinance can help some get the help they need. 

“We don’t want to criminalize it but some of the people that are sleeping in the street, they don’t really have to. And then the people that do have to, I’d like to find places they can go so they don’t have to sleep the street,” she said. “I don’t want anyone sleeping in the street.” 

Cooney owns Soupremacy off East Market Street and says the ordinance would also help her restaurant. 

“It does hurt business when you see a group of seven to eight people just hanging around, some lay on the ground because they’re so messed up they cant function. People don’t want to walk down this way,” she said. 

Cooney said it’s a general consensus among Downtown Mile Square business owners that something needs to be done to help the homeless. 

“The group that’s down here now, they’re very violent. They’re very confrontational. They get very agitated easily,” she said. “We try to get a handle on it just to make it safer for everybody.”

At the same time, community organizer Tony Davis said it’s his heart for the homeless that is leading him to protest the proposed ordinance. 

“First of all we don’t understand the trauma that these homeless people are dealing with. This isn’t a cookie-cutter crisis that’s going on in their lives,” Davis said. “To sit there and get them out of your sight does not solve the problem of homelessness.” 

Davis said the city’s time and money would be best spent organizing more shelters, services and solutions for the homeless. He said this ordinance and its penalties will not help homeless people get off the street. 

“They don’t have the money to pay these tickets if they don’t leave. They’re there first and foremost for safety,” he said. 

Teresa Williams is homeless and said she’s waiting on promised government help for housing. She said she appreciates community members who speak up for the homeless and have real solutions. 

“The homeless people have rights, too, and we have no where to go. So I sleep in a tent,” Councilor Williams said. 

The City-County Council discuss the proposal Monday night in the City-County Council chambers. The measure now goes to council committees for further discussion and potential amendments.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A proposed tax on downtown property owners aims to create programs that decrease panhandlers and clean up city streets and sidewalks. 

Downtown Indy Inc. has a petition headed Monday night to the Indianapolis City-County Council that suggests adding a new tax onto an Indianapolis property tax for businesses and residences in the central square mile of the city. It’s bordered by North, South, East and West streets would be known as the Downtown Indianapolis Mile Square Economic Improvement District. The tax would fund several projects aimed at beautifying and securing downtown. 

“People are taking notice of our decay and our growing panhandling situation and just letting it stay out there,” said Bob Schultz, vice president of marketing and communications for Downtown Indy Inc. “This is property owners taking control of their mile square.” 

Schultz said business and property owners initially came to his organization asking for solutions to a variety of problems that come with a growing city. He notes that twice as many people will reside downtown in 2020 than they did in 2010. 

“It’s cleaning up the streets, it’s cleaning up the sidewalks, it’s trash removal. Grafiti remediation, it’s pest bird mitigation,” he said. “Our downtown can’t afford to look broken. And the decay is starting.” 

The tax would generate about $3 million per year for 10 years. Schultz explained a property valued at $1 million would pay $125 annually, and would be invested into Indianapolis’ already most invested square mile. 

“Plenty of downtown businesses keep their property beautiful, spick and span and clean, but there’s these public spaces in between. Sidewalks, Monument Circle, alleys, all of these need to be attended to,” he said. “The city never has said It’s not their role to power-wash sidewalks.  It’s their role to plow streets and fill potholes, and they’re even challenged to do that.” 

The funds would be split into four categories: safety, streetscape maintenance and beautification, downtown experience, and economic development. The majority would go toward beautification, including funding from 10 to 15 full-time maintenance ambassadors who would assist in litter removal and providing hospitality services. Other funds would go toward hiring a full-time professional project manager to coordinate homeless and panhandler outreach, increasing off-duty officer patrols, and improving street and underpass lighting. An illustrative budget also allocates for a dog park, pet waste stations and broader public WiFi options. 

To petition the City-County Council, Downtown Indy Inc. was successful in signing 51 percent of the business owners in the square mile to the measure, and guaranteeing that property owners totaling 51 percent of the square mile’s real estate value was represented. 

Many businesses 24-Hour News Eight contacted Monday said they had never heard of the tax, and some said they would be opposed to it. Residents of Indianapolis said they would appreciate the extra attention to the city’s look.  

 “We generally have a clean city, but just personally I’ve noticed that’s kind of gone downhill in the last couple years,” said Ed Hesik, who lives in the city. “If you’re a business owner, you don’t want panhandlers, trash and bad streets to be in the forefront of your business in your downtown spaces.” 

If the measure passes, all projects would be approved by a 15-member property-owner board appointed by the City-County Council. Schultz said he hopes to see the tax approved by the end of June. 

See a list of affected properties here

A new proposal by a member of the Indianapolis City-County Council is pushing for a statewide assault weapons ban.

It’s a resolution that would have the council ask Indiana lawmakers to pass the ban of those guns and high-volume magazines.

Councilor William Oliver, who serves District 9 on the north side, said while he’s pro-Second Amendment, he’s pushing for his resolution in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting on Feb. 14 and the subsequent student-led March for Our Lives rallies locally and nationwide.

“Let the public weigh in on this discussion. Right now, we don’t have a hearing,” the councilman said.

Oliver said he’s alarmed by the number of mass shootings since a federal assault weapons ban ended in 2004. He said his particular issue is with AR-15s, a semi-automatic gun used in mass shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012; an Orlando nightclub in 2016; a Las Vegas concert in October; a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in November; and the Florida high school. 

“We’re seeing a rise in the use of assault weapons in crowded areas,” he said.

“This particular weapon is used for mass destruction.”

Oliver would not say whether or not he is a gun owner.

Michael Hilton, the owner of Indy Gun Bunker, said many people don’t understand how broad a definition it is for a gun to be a semi-automatic.

He said he refutes anyone who describes AR-15s as military weapons. He said he instead calls them “military-style.”

“The weapon I would sell out of my store is not the weapon the U.S. military would issue,” Hilton said.

Hilton said he opposes a ban on assault weapons but endorses stricter background checks.

“I have no problem with that whatsoever: requiring training for people, requiring education for firearms,” Hilton said.

As for the resolution proposed to the City-County Council, Hilton said he cannot see Indiana lawmakers considering the idea.

A few states have bans on certain weapons. A lawsuit is challenging bans in Massachusetts, and a federal district court judge in Boston ruled Friday that neither the state’s assault weapons ban nor its large-capacity magazines ban fall under the U.S. Constitution’s intent of right to bear arms.