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Onalaska addresses panhandling concerns

Mayor: more and more complaints from residents

Onalaska addresses panhandling concerns

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) - If you've driven by Highway 16 lately, you might have noticed people on street corners asking for money from passersby.

Panhandling is a sight Onalaska officials say is becoming more common, and they're looking at their options to address it.

"A lot of people are concerned with how it makes the community look, especially if it's the first thing people see coming off the interstate," Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said.

It's certainly the first thing city officials are noticing on their busiest intersections, outside businesses and on state highways. Chilsen says panhandling in Onalaska has been around for years, oftentimes coming in waves. This most recent wave has especially caught his eye and others' – Chilsen says he received several calls from concerned residents this past weekend.  

The issue isn't easily addressed. Neither Onalaska nor La Crosse currently has an ordinance against panhandling on the books. After hearing complaints from their communities, both cities have stepped up enforcement of laws against loitering and blocking roadways - though that doesn't always stop people from panhandling.

"I think that it's probably going to get worse before it gets better," Chilsen said.

Chilsen is considering a stronger push against panhandling in the form of an ordinance, if he can find some support from city council members. Currently, nothing official is on the schedule. Police Chief Jeff Trotnic said he's against a panhandling ordinance, adding there are other ways to combat the problem.

Chilsen says for the city of Onalaska, it all comes down to appearance and making the best first impression.

"We have to do whatever we can to make it attractive for people to come into the city, and we certainly want to put our best foot forward," he said.

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