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Aggressive panhandling drives away business in South Austin

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It's one of the hardest city ordinances to enforce. Aggressive panhandling is a constant problem in Austin with many businesses affected and not just in the downtown area.

Police say several businesses in South Austin complain of aggressive panhandlers harassing customers and driving business away.

It's so bad in some areas, one salesperson says he came face to face with a panhandler who pulled a knife on him.

Joshua Mosher's encounter with an aggressive panhandler is not typical. He works at Allen Boots on South Congress.

"He was sitting out there yelling, swearing at people and kind of frightening people," said Mosher. "I walk out there, you have to leave and he pulled a knife on me and I've trained martial arts my whole life so I instinctively pulled out my knife and said what do you what to do? He just turned around and took off."

Mosher says that man has not been back.

A few doors down, Tesoro's Trading Company's co-owner, Kisla Jimenez, says while she sympathizes, panhandling drives off customers and business.

"I can't say I blame people for the situations that they're in but it has gotten worse," said Jimenez.

Sgt. Jamie Jobes says aggressive panhandling is a city wide problem. But it is one of the biggest complaints in the David sector, or a big part of South Austin.

"People being approached in parking lots, or on the corner, when they're at an ATM, when they're at the store, and have people walk up to them out of nowhere and ask them for money," said Jobes.

One of the hot spots for panhandlers is Ben White and Congress where 51-year-old, Stewart, is every day. He has polio, doesn't want to stay with family, and chooses to ask for money to pay for his motel every night. But he doesn't like aggressive panhandling. That negatively affects him too.

"That makes it bad for me," said Stewart.

Police are writing him yet another ticket for pedestrian in the roadway. He says he's gotten 100 in the past four years.

APD senior patrol officer, Robert Barboza, defends giving out tickets and says it does work.

"The ticketing does work because if you look at my other corners, nobody's out there. He's one of the last diehards. He just won't leave."

Police say they give out citations, like pedestrian in the roadway, because it's not easy to catch aggressive panhandling in the act.

Stewart says he pays his fines. For those who don't, police issue warrants.

Police say if someone asks you for money, just say no and walk away. It's considered aggressive if that person asks again. If you feel unsafe, call 911.

Police say making a donation to a charity is better.

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