NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It is a nearly daily occurrence for Janelle Williams. She pulls into the parking lot of her Douglas Estates North development off Redman, and a man comes up asking for money before she can get out of the car.
"I know they have a right to free speech, but we have a right not to consistently have panhandlers right at our door," Williams, the president of the condominium association, told city council members Wednesday. Less than an hour earlier, Williams said, she was confronted by a man outside her home as she was heading to the council meeting.
Ibn Bey lives in the same development and also sees the men. Bey said a woman who lives in a condominium near him is afraid to open her door because the men are sitting on her step, sometimes eating soup or something else.
"I shouldn't have to walk out my door and have to deal with this on my doorstep," Bey said.
Residents at the development have been dealing with this problem continuously for at least 18 months, Williams said.
City council members agreed that homeowners should not have to endure such constant confrontations, but city Attorney T.K. Shamy said the issue is complicated because the people asking for money also have rights.
The attorney recalled how the ACLU sued the city in 2014 after a man was arrested four times for asking people for money. A judge ruled in favor of the man, temporarily halting the city ban.
Shamy said New Brunswick and other municipalities are now waiting for the results of Asbury Park's ordinance that passed last October to stop people from aggressively asking others for money.
New Brunswick plans to take a more active approach, giving residents, municipal workers and others sheets of information to hand out when they are approached by someone seeking money, said Keith Jones, a community organizer in the mayor's office. The handouts, Jones said, will provide information about services where people in need can get assistance.
"We are doing a disservice to these individuals if we give them $5 or $10," Jones said at the council meeting. "We're going to empower residents, empower city employees, empower businesses by giving them this information to give to panhandlers."
Some people, Jones said, make a job out of asking people for money. He said people drive into New Brunswick, or come in on trains, spend the day asking people for money and go home at night.
City leaders were sympathetic to the residents' complaints.
"If there's a woman coming home by herself at night and someone comes up to her, that can be very threatening," Councilman Glen Fleming said.
City officials acknowledged that people can not go on private property to beg for money.
Williams spoke with a police officer at the meeting about what the residents have endured to see if officers could help.