SPRINGFIELD — “They’ve been fair to me,” 61-year-old Jesse Spurgis says. “I was over there in the median and they told me I wasn’t supposed to be out there, so, I don’t go out there anymore.”
Spurgis stands on the side of the street with a sign asking for money, which he uses for meals and bus rides.
The city of Springfield released their pedestrian safety ordinance the same year Spurgis became homeless: 2018.
Traffic engineer for the City of Springfield Eric Claussen says the ordinance protects the safety of both drivers and pedestrians.
“It’s really based upon three components: speed, volume and width of median,” Claussen says.
This ordinance goes affects streets with high speed limits, heavy traffic, and small medians. It also limits the amount of interaction between a driver and pedestrian at a busy intersection.
Even though this ordinance affects panhandlers like Spurgis, he says it hasn’t caused many problems.
“The officers I have talked to have been pretty polite and upfront,” Spurgis says.
Lieutenant Robert Byrne of the Springfield Police Department says early on in the ordinance, officers gave warnings to teach people the new rules of the road. This lead to less violations and citations.
“In 2017 there were 53 citations or violations, in 2018 there were 30, so there would’ve been a significant decrease,” Byrne says.
Officers usually take violators of the ordinance lightly, but if there’s a repeat violator, it’s a different story.
“Officers do have that discretion to give a warning or to give a citation,” Byrne says. “Regularly it would become a practice especially if there’s someone that would be a repeat offender or repeat violator that officers are familiar with.”
Spurgis says he agrees with the way officers handle this situation, as some panhandlers aren’t polite to those who come and go.
“Some of these people are con artists, and I’ve seen them come and go,” Spurgis says. “I’m polite to everybody, I wave to everybody that goes by because that’s just the way I am.”