Middle Township, NJ – Look, if you want to beg for money, that’s up to you. We just ask that you go down to your local municipal office to secure a permit, okay?
Sounds strange, but cops shaking down panhandlers without permits is actually reality in New Jersey right now. According to northjersey.com, beggars are now required to obtain a permit in order to panhandle, and any violators will be punished harshly.
Additionally, individuals are discouraged from “aggressively” soliciting donations.
The Middle Township ordinance defines aggressive solicitation as “speaking to or following a person in a manner that would cause them to fear bodily harm or otherwise intimidating someone into giving money or goods.”
It’s not necessarily an effort to bureaucratize begging nor a desperate attempt to collect extra taxes for the Jersey Boardwalk fire relief. Rather, requiring beggars to get a permit seems to be Middle Township’s answer to increasingly ballsy beggars.
“It’s a recurring complaint from our residents,” said Police Chief Christopher Leusner. “I’ve gotten numerous complaints from residents that say, ‘Hey, I was in ShopRite, I was on my way to my car and a person followed me and asked me (for money) three or four times.'”
Still, beggars are able to obtain a permit (free of charge, naturally), but then they have to play by the rules. In addition to the aforementioned “aggressive solicitation,” permitted panhandlers cannot block a pedestrian or vehicle, cannot panhandle near an ATM, bus stop or train stop, and they cannot collect money for a service.
Fines for violating the ordinance start at $250 and go all the way up to jail time. See what I meant by discouraging begging?
Leusner said that beggars who remain within the ordinance have nothing to fear.
“Someone walks by and says, ‘Can you spare a dollar?’ And they thank you, they keep on moving – that’s something that is protected by the First Amendment,” Leusner said. “That’s not what we’re targeting here. These are people that are making people feel unsafe.”