SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (NEWS10) – People are still at City Hall in Saratoga Springs protesting against a new law that would make sitting or lying on a sidewalk illegal. They have been doing so since 6 o’clock Saturday evening.
“I don’t usually do this but I really felt strongly about this that the issue needs to be put out there,” said protester Catherine Commerford.
What Catherine Commerford doesn’t usually do is take part in a protest. But she said Saratoga Springs’ new law that would fine people for sitting or lying on the sidewalk is something she feels deeply about.
“They say this is not, this is not targeting the homeless but I think we all believe those of us sitting here that it does,” said Commerford.
“I think people feel that it will inevitably target people who are homeless and that’s, you know, not right, criminalizing people who are poor,” said Brian Michael, who started the Sunset Protest.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen continues to say the ordinance has nothing to do with the homeless or panhandlers.
“People who are panhandling have every right to do so. It’s a constitutional right, it’s a free speech issue,” said Mathiesen.
Instead, he said it’s about keeping pedestrians safe and the sidewalks free of obstructions. Mathiesen said this has become a growing problem in the city.
Under the law, you would first get a warning. Your first offense would cost you 50 to $100 and additional offenses within 24 hours could cost you up to $500 or up to ten days in jail.
“We don’t want anybody falling over someone else on the sidewalks. That includes panhandlers or homeless people, we don’t want anybody tripping over other people,” said Mathiesen.
But Commerford and others still said they can’t see this law as only being about public safety.
“I just think this law is ridiculous, that’s all. We know it’s targeting our folks, our people who are homeless. They need help, you know, they don’t need to be arrested,” said Commerford.
“This was just a way to sweep things under the rug,” said protester Leah Woods.
Even if they can’t change the new law, they hope they can change the city’s focus to solving the homeless and vagrancy problems.
“Us coming together here is a way that we can start reaching out and helping more around our city,” said Woods.
“The point is, we need to do something different,” said Commerford.
The law will go into effect sometime next week and it applies not to just downtown Saratoga but the entire city.
Exceptions to this law will include parades, festivals, and medical emergencies.