Special To The Herald
NEW BRITAIN- When Gus Ververis took over his fatherâ€™s position as manager of Capitol Lunch on Main Street, he never suspected that aggressive panhandling would plague his third-generation family business.
The issue, Ververis said, has continued to progress despite a proposal approved in late April of 2016 that the city claimed would help halt the issue.
â€śA lot of elderly customers that come here are afraid to because of the panhandling. They donâ€™t even want to cross the street,â€ť Ververis said. â€śThey think twice about coming here because of that element thatâ€™s out there.â€ť
Though panhandling is not illegal in the State of Connecticut, the problem, according to state police, begins when the person asking for money becomes aggressive.
With the majority of incidents taking place on Hartford Road, the resolution was quick to pass after Mayor Erin Stewart called it a â€śpublic safety concern.â€ť
The ordinance defines aggressive panhandling as unwanted touching, cursing, blocking or anything else that would otherwise make the individual being panhandled feel unsafe.
Now, subjects violating the agreement will be charged with a $99 fine per offense.
â€śItâ€™s been a problem long before (I became a manager). Can it get aggressive? Absolutely,â€ť Ververis said. â€śThe ones that are addicted [to drugs or alcohol] are the ones who are going to start stepping it up. If youâ€™re in a car, theyâ€™ll try to reach into your car.â€ť
According to New Britain Police, there have been 25 reported incidents since July of 2016 involving aggressive panhandling, four of which included â€śfull custody arrests.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s standing in the roadway thatâ€™s a problem because itâ€™s a high traffic area,â€ť New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said referring to the citations issued on Hartford Road. â€śWe look at it strictly as a public safety issue. We donâ€™t arrest them or ask them to leave because theyâ€™re asking people for money, itâ€™s because theyâ€™re standing in the roadway distracting drivers.â€ť
Wardwell also said that the issue in that specific area is not entirely New Britainâ€™s own, as the stretch of highway is shared with Farmington and West Hartford.
But when asked how often panhandling occurs in the city itself, Ververis said, â€śItâ€™s probably happening right now.â€ť
â€śMaybe they need it, maybe they donâ€™t need it, but honestly, theyâ€™re not using it for food,â€ť Ververis continued. â€śThere is a lot of drug use, a lot of homelessness, Most are repeated people. They hang out in the back, they hang out downtown.â€ť
Hoping to help combat the issue, Ververis said he offers work to those he sees asking for money, though he is often turned down. For him, however, it is often easy to tell that some people truly are desperate.
â€śSome of the younger people will accept food and theyâ€™re very grateful, but I would say thatâ€™s more rare than the majority thatâ€™s out there now,â€ť Ververis said.
Still, Ververis said that aggressive panhandling outside his restaurant is not the only problem he is forced to face.
â€śPeople urinate in front of the business. I had to call the police once because there was a gentleman who was exposed when he was just walking by,â€ť he said.
Chestnut Street Dunkinâ€™ Donuts General Manager Yamilet Ortiz agreed panhandling is an issue for the city, especially downtown, despite Wardwellâ€™s claim that minimal activity takes place in that area.
â€śIt is pretty big,â€ť Ortiz said. â€śPersonally, I do think it affects business. In my location, I have certain customers that come up and complain about it. Itâ€™s an everyday thing.â€ť
Though both Ververis and Ortiz said that panhandling is a significant issue in the downtown area, Wardwell said if incidents are taking place, they are not being reported to police.
While aggressive panhandling continues to be a problem for Capitol Lunch and Dunkinâ€™ Donuts, Remi Szupryczynski, General Manager of Roly Poly Bakery, said that hiring security has helped decrease the number of incidents.
â€śWe had the problem several years ago, and, since then, we put the security on a full-time position here and it sort of stopped,â€ť Szupryczynski said. â€śMaybe it scares them away.â€ť
For Ververis, however, the solution to the problem that often drives his customers away is still unclear.
â€śI donâ€™t know how you fix it. What can you do?â€ť Ververis said. â€śIf itâ€™s really people that are hungry and looking for food, you have to have outlets and places for them to go to eat. Somewhere that the community can direct them to go to.â€ť
New Britain contains three homeless shelters, one of which includes the Friendship Service Center on Arch Street, which temporarily houses men, women and children 12 months or older.
Three meals a day, seven days a week are provided to shelter residents and lunch is served weekdays from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. to anyone in need.
Free summer meals are also being offered to kids in various locations throughout the city, including Stanley Park, to kids and teens under the age of 18.
Wardwell said he urges any city residents to contact police if they are subject to aggressive panhandling.