AUGUSTA — The best way to make the city safer is to create more housing options, not create additional criminal penalties that would make things worse for people without a place to stay.

That was the message Thursday from resident Sam Baker, who urged the Augusta City Council to reject the proposed new “unreasonable solicitation” ordinance under consideration.

The ordinance would not specifically target people who are homeless, although it was proposed after councilors recently heard from numerous downtown merchants who complained about problems created by a few aggressive transient people. Merchants said they fear the behavior will intimidate families and scare customers away from downtown.

The City Council took public comment on the proposed new ordinance at an informational meeting Thursday.

“While I appreciate their perspective, I do not agree with their proposed solution — to get tougher with unhoused individuals by increasing the crimes or misdemeanors that police can arrest people for, and that the district attorneys can charge unhoused people with,” Baker told councilors.

Baker warned the proposed rules would do more harm than good, and doesn’t address the central need to house people. “Additional criminal penalties are not going to help the unhoused people find housing, access mental health care and treatment, or secure educational and employment opportunities.”


Councilors said the proposed Augusta ordinance, which is based on existing rules in the city of Bangor, neither targets people who are homeless nor the downtown area. Residents and business owners previously described people banging on cars, blocking pedestrians, yelling at people, and coming into businesses demanding money or food.

“It’s a public safety issue; it is not a solution to dealing with homelessness, and I didn’t see a nexus there,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind, who brought the proposed ordinance to councilors for consideration. “I understand what you’re saying, but I didn’t see it that way, and I still don’t. I see it more as a public safety issue, to provide a level playing field for everyone to have freedom of movement. Without feeling like their freedom of movement, or even freedom of speech, is being impeded by others that may not have good judgement.”

The ordinance, carrying a $100 fine, would make it illegal for someone to engage in unreasonable solicitation, which the Bangor ordinance describes as blocking or impeding the path of the person being asked for money or other donations, or following, threatening with physical harm by words or gestures, or touching someone being solicited.

The Augusta ordinance defines solicitation as any request made in person seeking an immediate donation.

Mayor Mark O’Brien echoed Lind in saying the proposed ordinance does not target people who are unhoused.

“It applies to anybody who’d engage in this behavior, unhoused or not,” O’Brien said. “You don’t have to be unhoused to be a violator of someone’s privacy and safety.”

Councilors held the first of two required readings on the proposal Thursday. The second reading, and potential vote, could come at their next business meeting, which is currently scheduled for Thursday, April 4.

Baker urged councilors to reject the ordinance and then consult with housing, mental health and social services workers to find better, compassionate ways to help homeless individuals in the community.

“In Maine we help the people who show up at our doorsteps — that’s who we are,” he said. “That’s why we should be organizing and preparing ourselves now to meet this urgent ongoing need.”

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