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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Officials suggest permits, other ideas to decrease downtown loitering

  • City officials, along with commissioners, are working on ways to decrease loitering downtown. This is part of an ongoing attempt to revitalize downtown Shawnee.
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  • City officials, along with commissioners, are working on ways to decrease loitering downtown. This is part of an ongoing attempt to revitalize downtown Shawnee.
     
    “We’re trying to identify ways to curb the loitering,” City Manager Brian McDougal said.
     
    The issue of homelessness and vagrancy has been brought up by several downtown merchants and has been a talking point for the commission before, most recently when the commission passed a moratorium on homeless shelters in Shawnee.
     
    The moratorium prohibited any new shelters, but did not affect any current shelters, such as the Salvation Army.
     
    A list of possibilities, as well as the current course of action taken by the city was released by the city manager in an attempt to get brainstorming and conversations started, McDougal said.
     
    “We’re just trying to be responsive to the downtown merchants,” he added.
     
    Although steps are being taken in the form of new ordinances, and the police department working to bring back downtown bike patrols, McDougal said he doesn’t expect anything to appear before the commission in the near future.
     
    Mayor Wes Mainord agreed.
     
    “These are still just discussion points,” Mainord said.
     
    The new possibilities suggested closing the parks earlier, as well as prohibiting alcohol, glass bottles, smoking, weapons, and fire of any kind in the parks.
     
    Further the suggestions included a recommendation to require a permit for selling or giving away food in the parks.
     
    This would affect Kim Robinson of Hope To Offer, a group working with churches to provide meals to the homeless and those in poverty.
     
    Robinson said if the city did begin to require permits, she and her group would work to obtain a permit.
     
    “It’s always been my understanding that we’re within the legal requirements,” she said. “I absolutely want to honor what they want us to do.”
     
    While she would work to obtain a permit, Robinson said she hoped the city would not make her role in assisting the homeless more difficult than needed.
     
    “I want to work with the city, but I also want to help people,” Robinson said.
     
    Mainord said he wasn’t sure if the permit suggestion would be enacted or not.
     
    “I’m not sure that’s the answer,” he said.
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    Mainord went on to describe his ideal – a more streamlined system, with multiple organizations working in support of a single organization to decrease service duplications.
     
    With so many groups providing so many services – and often the same services, “it gets things kind of confusing,” Mainord added. “We need more people supporting a key organization.”
     
    Robinson’s organization works with several local churches to provide a meals to homeless and impoverished individuals, and said this allows her organization to use its limited funds to assist those individuals in other ways, including rent deposits, utility payments, and other necessities.
     
    She agreed that a more structured approach would be better.
     
    “Structure is always a good thing,” Robinson said. “It’s a matter of us all understanding what each other does.”
     
    While she agreed that structure and discussion were steps in the right direction, Robinson said she thought more people should be involved in the discussion.
     
    “I wish they would include us in their brainstorming,” she said, adding that the issue is multi-faceted and requires multiple points of view.
     
    “Change takes a long time,” Robinson said. “It’s very easy to assume that they’ve [the poor] have chosen these circumstances.”
     
    This is rarely, if ever, the case, she said. But it’s difficult for those who aren’t working directly with the impoverished to understand that, Robinson said.
     
    Because of that, she questioned the idea of limiting the assistance these people can get, including implementing a permit system.
     
    “That doesn’t deal with the problem – it doesn’t even cover it up,” Robinson said.
     
    Any changes to ordinances, including requiring a permit, would need approval from the full city commission.
     

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