MEMPHIS, TN - Aggressive panhandling has been a problem in the Bluff City for years. So when the Memphis City Council approved a new panhandling ordinance in April 2010, many people were relieved.
Brad Watkins, who works for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, was one of those breathing a sigh of relief.
Watkins was pleased because when the panhandling ordinance was passed, the council also created a task force to investigate the mental health and criminal justice issues associated with the homeless.
But more than a year after the law was passed, that task force has yet to meet.
"Nothing has happened there," says Watkins, "absolutely nothing."
He says he tried to meet with council members, but got the run around.
"There was zero follow-up," he tells abc24.com. "I got the run around for a couple months. I was told we can't get the judges on board. It was the same thing over and over again."
Councilman Harold Collins sees it a different way.
"We are a very stretched thin city of advocates." Collins says.
Collins was selected to chair the task force. He says within weeks, Mayor A C Wharton announced plans for his own task force. Instead of creating two task forces for the same issue, Collins says it made sense to defer to the mayor.
"I don't think it would be wise for the city to have two different tracks going with the same people," Collins tells abc24.com. "You would be wasting those people's time."
Watkins says Collins is missing the point. He says the original task force was supposed to focus on mental health and criminal justice issues, and not be as wide-ranging as Mayor Wharton's group.
"When it's not Christmas," says Watkins, "it's kind of hard to get our elected officials to be sincere and to really push for solutions for people on the street."