NEW BEDFORD — As debate over Mayor Jon Mitchell's decision to curb panhandling by installing inverted cobblestones on the median of a busy downtown intersection continues, the City Council is also divided on the issue.

During a City Council meeting on Tuesday, Councillor At-Large Brian Gomes presented a motion that calls for the placement of the cobblestones at even more busy intersections in New Bedford. The Council voted for the motion to be sent to the Public Safety Committee for review.

Gomes, also Chair of the Public Safety Committee, says that he'd “like to see the cobblestones used in several areas throughout the city.” He argues that pedestrians shouldn't be standing on the median of a busy road anyways, and says the Mayor's intentions did not involve hurting the panhandlers.

“I don't think the intent from the Mayor's Office was in any way to hurt anyone,” Gomes said. “They (panhandlers) don't belong there. A median strip is set on a roadway, which is usually a major thoroughfare, to separate traffic. It is not there to stand on, it is not there to walk on, it's there to separate the traffic.”

Gomes filed the motion in the wake of Ward Three Councillor Hugh Dunn penning a letter to Mayor Mitchell last week, cosigned by Ward Two Councillor Maria Giesta and Councillor At-Large Ian Abreu, expressing their distaste with the cobblestones.

In the letter, Dunn called the cobblestones "dangerous and malicious" and wrote “the spiked cobblestones are quite simply designed to hurt people.” Dunn says that the cobblestones do nothing to address the underlying issues that bring panhandlers to street corners and intersections to begin with.

“This is designed at beautifying downtown through moving these folks out of sight and out of mind, but that doesn't mean that they cease to exist,” Dunn argued. “So, where will they go? Probably into the neighborhoods, so how is that going to work out in the long run? I don't think this is an idea that has really been thought through.”

Councillor Giesta backed the notion presented by Dunn that the cobblestones present a safety risk, calling the potential placement of them city wide a “band aid.” Giesta continued to argue that the majority of panhandlers are facing some sort of mental illness and need help from the public to better their lives.

“I understand that people are frustrated, but this is not the way to deal with a bigger situation. Most of the panhandlers are drug users, they are people with mental illness, they are veterans that are sick mentally and physically. It runs the whole gambit,” said Giesta. “I think we really need to focus on what really needs to be done, and that is making sure that these people are getting the help they need.”

Gomes agrees that a lot of the panhandlers are drug users, but says that he's witnessed a lot of drug dealing from them as well.

“These are not the poor people that need the help. This is not the homeless, this is not the veteran, this is the drug user who is using our city and our roadways to collect money and use the people who continue to give to them,” Gomes said.

Regardless of the fate of Gomes' motion in committee and the cobblestones already installed downtown, Dunn says that he “will continue to be opposed to this on moral grounds.”

“I believe it's an unethical use of money to harm people in this city. I think this is the wrong path for the City because this is not a solution to homelessness. It does nothing to address the underlying issues of poverty, substance abuse, and mental health disorders,” Dunn continued. “I think it's dangerous. We should not be spending money in a way that's designed to hurt people, we as a city are better than that and we can look for better way to help these people.”

During the meeting, Gomes received public support from Councillor At-Large Naomi Carney.

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