Chicago panhandlers receive settlement money

October 26, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Nine people sued the City of Chicago after they were told they could not panhandle on North Michigan Avenue.

Not all of those who sued got paid their $750 share on Friday. That's because the attorney representing them was having trouble locating all of his clients. But, for the ones he did find, the windfall represents more than just cash.

For McArthur Hubbard, the money represented a vindication, but it's also some much needed cash. The 48-year-old hospital worker became homeless in 2009 after being laid off and has been working the streets ever since.

"I have no place to stay, and this will give me a place to stay at least for a couple of days," Hubbard said.

The money is the result of a legal settlement after he and eight others sued the City of Chicago over their right to panhandle on North Michigan Avenue.

Earlier this year, Mark Weinberg -- the panhandlers' attorney -- filed the class action lawsuit in federal court against the city and police, claiming officers harassed his clients for panhandling along the Mag Mile and violated their right to free speech.

"I think there's different types of ugliness in our society, and one type is when cops abuse their power and use heavy-handed tactics to violate people's constitutional rights, and in that sense we've cleaned up things on Michigan Avenue," Weinberg said.

Panhandlers are almost everywhere. And, while some retailers and others remain concerned about their presence, many of those spending money along Michigan Avenue Friday were not.

"You feel sorry for them and want to help them, but who knows their situation," said tourist Chris Hicks.

A current Chicago municipal ordinance prevents panhandlers from following, blocking, touching someone or using abusive language.

Streetwise executive director Jim Lobianco supports the protection of the 1st Amendment but would like to see the root cause of poverty addressed.

"There are so many better ways to help a person in crisis than just throwing change in a cup," said Lobianco. "Chicago has hundreds of well-established social service agencies."

Meanwhile, another panhandler, Kim Pindak, says that although mental illness disrupted his plans, he hopes the money will allow him to eventually stop working the streets.

"One day I hope, someday, I won't have to panhandle, that I can do something more useful than just panhandle," Pindak said.

This is the fifth successful lawsuit Weinberg has filed against the city on behalf of people who panhandle.

There is another lawsuit pending on behalf of a larger group of panhandlers. That complaint claims panhandlers have been the victims of unreasonable search and seizure by the city and the Chicago Police Department.

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