Next month, the village board will decide whether or not to adopt a local law that would make aggressive panhandling illegal—an issue that has more specifically plagued the area surrounding the Mineola train station for many years.
According to village attorney John Gibbons, the proposed local law would protect Mineola residents and Mineola commuters from threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior from panhandlers and homeless people who ask for money. The local law would apply to all areas within the village and if approved, the law would require panhandlers to pay a fine or go to jail.
Although there seems to be strong support for the new law, there are some who feel that the village is criminalizing the poor.
Maria DeGennaro, a staff attorney from the Central Islip based-Empire Justice Center, addressed the village board last Wednesday voicing her strong disapproval of the proposed law.
“We at the Empire Justice Center voice our strong opposition and urge you to reject this proposal,” said DeGennaro. “We believe that this legislation is punishing people for their poverty. This legislation is a stereotype of those who are homeless. It is a very difficult issue but criminalizing the poor is not something we condone.”
DeGennaro also called the village’s proposed law unacceptable public policy that could subject Mineola to litigation.
“We’re not looking to criminalize the poor or anyone,” rebutted Mayor Scott Strauss. “We’re looking to address certain acts, not a status of a person. It doesn’t matter if they’re homeless or a billionaire, it’s their act we’re looking to address, not their status. So please don’t misconstrue anything we’re looking to do.”
Mineola resident Marc Randazzo, a supporter of the proposed law, said that he sees the bums and professional drug addict panhandlers all day at the Mineola train station when he commutes to and from work.
“I get on the train at 7:53 a.m. in the morning and come home at 6:47 p.m. at night and they’re there,” said Randazzo. “They’re there to beg for money to get their next fix and their next high. That’s all they’re there for.”
Randazzo suggested that the two payphones on the north side of the tracks should be dismantled in another effort to get the panhandlers to leave the train station.
“That’s how they attain their drugs,” said Randazzo. “They get on the phone, they call their drug dealer and their drug dealer delivers to them. Get rid of those phones and they’ll stop.”
Former Mineola mayor and Senator Jack Martins, who has seen the issue firsthand, also voiced his approval.
“Mayor, I appreciate you making the difference between status and act,” said Martins. “People have asked for help because they feel intimidated. I think that is something as a community that we have to come together and pass laws that protect our community and the general public.”
Martins encouraged the board to not be concerned about groups such as the Empire Justice Center who drop words like litigation or buzzwords like attacking the poor.
“Do what’s right for the residents of this village and for the commuters who are going into the city and want to get home safely, who feel intimidated to empty their pockets to someone in fear of being accosted,” said Martins.
Martins and deputy mayor Paul Pereira both said that there are resources from within Nassau County that provide help for the poor. However, oftentimes the homeless refuse the help that is given to them.
Trustee Dennis Walsh said if the new law is approved, it needs to be enforced by both the MTA and Nassau County Police.
“Sometimes when this occurs at the train station, they [panhandlers] move from train property and onto Nassau County streets,” said Walsh. “People have complained about this issue in the past and we’re trying to be proactive.”
Trustee Paul Cusato also said that the village board won’t allow the panhandlers to degrade the village.
“There are hundreds of people who use the train station daily and many of them are out-of-towners,” said Cusato. “These people should not be subjected to their antics or their abusive behavior that these panhandlers cause.”
The next village board meeting is Wednesday, June 6, at 6:30 p.m. at Village Hall.