New Bedford takes dramatic step to curb panhandlers

By John Krinjak

Email: jkrinjak@abc6.com

Twitter: @johnkrinjakABC6

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) — Until recently, the intersection of Route 6 and Pleasant Street in New Bedford used to be a go-to spot for panhandlers–specifically the median along Route 6, where panhandlers would routinely beg for money as drivers wait for the light to change. 

"It’s a bit of a nuisance," said Jason Sylvia, a driver who frequents that stretch of Route 6. 

But now? During the busy Wednesday evening rush, there was not one panhandler to be found. If you look closely you’ll see why. The city recently added large cobblestones to the median, at a diagonal angle.

"They’re just trying to solve a problem," said Sylvia. 

"I thought it was kind of ludicrous," said Nadine Kemp of New Bedford. "I think it’s kind of dangerous for people who walk across without walking through the crosswalk."

Councilor Hugh Dunn wrote a letter to Mayor Jon Mitchell, saying the new median is dangerous and inhumane, and opens the city up to lawsuits.

"I don’t know who’s designing these projects for our city. I don’t know if it’s wile e coyote. It would certainly be cheaper to put barbed wire there. It would be more effective. But it’s not the right choice," said Dunn. 

Jonathan Carvalho, a spokesperson for the Mayor tells ABC6 the goal is to deter people from walking on the median, while never mentioning panhandling, saying in a statement, ‘The improved median strip is intended to address an increasingly dangerous situation where people walking along the median have put both themselves and motorists at risk."

"It’s a good thing. It’s a good solution," one driver told me. "I haven’t seen–nobody’s here. It’s awesome."

Others say in the long run it won’t stop panhandlers.

"I don’t think it’s going to make a difference. They’ll still find a way. A piece of plywood, they’ll be standing here," said Sylvia. 

Instead of these tactics, Dunn thinks the city should look at the underlying problems of panhandling, like poverty and mental health issues.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2018