The West Warwick Town Council unanimously voted down a panhandling resolution sponsored by Council President David Gosselin Jr that would authorize the display of signs at locations where panhandling occurs, encouraging passersby not to give money or other items to individuals who are panhandling.
“This is not anti-panhandling,” said Gosselin. “This is not anti-homeless individuals. This is about the safety and welfare of the town, individuals at the corner, and people in traffic.”
The West Warwick Town Council had looked into anti-panhandling ordinances in the past, but were advised by legal counsel that such a move may invite lawsuits from the ACLU. The resolution proposed by Gosselin is based on an ordinance from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and according to Gosselin, has never been challenged by the ACLU.
Gosselin estimated that there were no more than ten people engaging in panhandling in West Warwick. “It’s not as epidemic as everyone thinks here in West Warwick, but I thought [signs] was a good idea.”
During the sometimes acrimonious public comment period, West Warwick resident Michael Gaudreau accused Gosselin of fearmongering the panhandling situation. “You opened this discussion by stating that we have violent people as panhandlers,” said Gaudreau. “That one gentleman dropped a body off on Pulaski Street, that another one was outside a school or a day care.”
“Same individual,” said Gosselin, clarifying that the individual who dropped the dead body was outside a school was the same person.
“That these people have addictions and the money is going to their addictions and not to them,” continued Gaudreau. “We do not know the reason that that person is out on that street corner… There’s nothing wrong with being homeless. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
Thomas Oates, another West Warwick resident, wanted to know the source of Gosselin’s panhandling statistics. Oates said the only panhandler he sees in his travels around West Warwick is on the corner near the bar On the Roch’s, which is actually in Warwick.
“I think the signs are a waste of money,” said West Warwick resident Richard Houle. “You state that you don’t know who these people are. I don’t know who people are when I’m walking by them. Why do they have to be a panhandler when you make that statement? We walk by people all day long. I don’t know half the people in this room. I’m still going to walk by them. I don’t fear for my safety.”
“I asked myself a question to every bullet point you made,” said West Warwick resident Richard Garganta. “‘How will that stop panhandling?’ and I got [in answer] ‘It’s not. It’s not.’ … These signs will do nothing but demonize the poor.”
West Warwick resident Alan Palazzo suggested that Council President Gosselin was engaged in a publicity stunt to garner attention ahead of the 2018 elections. “In my honest opinion this was just something to gather publicity…”
“Alan…” said Gosselin.
“Please don’t interrupt me,” said Palazzo.
Gosselin interrupted. “Well before campaign season this was sent to the council… I had no idea – none – that this would blow up the way it did.”
“Thank you for interrupting me,” said Palazzo. “I will just leave with one last statement: I wasn’t born yesterday, I was born in 1952. Hopefully you can understand that.” Palazzo then returned to his seat.
“You got a fifty year anniversary coming up too,” said Gosselin.
Some in the crowd, seeming to understand Gosselin’s reference, reacted.
“…this is what we mean about you…” said a woman.
“That was uncalled for!” said a man.
“I tell ya, I can’t believe what’s coming out of their mouths,” said a man in the audience.
Palazzo returned to the microphone. “Okay. For those of you who do not understand that – We are in the month of August. In August, 1969, myself, [then] a 16-year old boy, was involved in an accident…”
“Alan, you’re off the agenda,” said Gosselin.
“Two of my friends died in that [accident],” continued Palazzo. “That, I believe, in my opinion, is what he was referring to.”
“No, that was not what I was referring to and I’ll talk to you outside if you’d like to talk about it, okay?” said Gosselin.
“You brought it up in the public!” said Michael Gaudreau, from the audience. “That’s why we need to get rid of you!”
The vote was called soon after, and the resolution failed.
Town Council President David Gosselin Jr began the meeting with a message, asking that, “When you enter of Town Hall, your personal agendas, your personal dislikes of anyone should be left outside these chambers… We should be doing this all together. We should be improving our town together. So let’s work together in a civilized fashion.”
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