Archive for Saturday, June 18, 2005

City considering panhandling ordinance

June 18, 2005


Just say no.

That should be all downtown pedestrians have to do to fend off panhandlers, under an ordinance up for Lawrence City Commission approval Tuesday night. Panhandlers who get in people's faces, repeatedly ask for money or touch people would be subject to fines and even jail time if the ordinance is approved.

The ordinance has its supporters both on the commission and among downtown merchants.

"No should mean no," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said. "If somebody approaches somebody and asks for change and the person says no, that should be the end of it. I think we need something like that. If you want to have a strong downtown, you have to have something on the books."

Commissioners also will consider two other ordinances: one regulating how a person can lie or sit on the sidewalk or other public rights of way, and one that would prohibit camping in parks and other public places.

Several downtown merchants had pushed for tougher ordinances after watching people aggressively panhandle, sleep in doorways, set fire in alleys and camp on the roofs of downtown buildings.

"I had several customers complain to me that they were afraid to come downtown," said Peter Zacharias, owner of Goldmakers, a jewelry store at 723 Mass. "I think they (city staff) have done an excellent job with the ordinances. It is only one part of the package, though. You have to have enforcement, but right now we have no credible ordinances to enforce."

Steve Burton plays guitar for tips on the northeast corner of 10th and Massachusetts streets in this 2005 photo. City commissioners approved "aggressive panhandling" ordinances, but they&squot;ve been rarely enforced. Burton says he has never had complaints about his playing music for donations.

Steve Burton plays guitar for tips on the northeast corner of 10th and Massachusetts streets in this 2005 photo. City commissioners approved "aggressive panhandling" ordinances, but they've been rarely enforced. Burton says he has never had complaints about his playing music for donations.

Reaction to the proposed ordinances was mixed among members of the homeless community.

"They have got to have more important issues to worry about," said Celeste Perkins, a Lawrence resident currently looking for a home. "Housing is one of them. Most of those things aren't even a problem here. I think they're thinking of a different city."

The panhandling ordinance would continue to allow panhandling in most places. The ordinance would not apply to street musicians who are not verbally asking for money.

The penalties for all three ordinances can range from fines of $1 to $1,000 or jail time up to 180 days. Penalties will be handed out in municipal court.

Zacharias said that was the one portion of the ordinances he didn't agree with. He said monetary fines or jail time would not serve as an adequate deterrent to homeless individuals. If individuals were convicted, he said, they should temporarily lose access to certain homeless services such as soup kitchens or shelters.

Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, said he disagreed. His facility has banned about 25 individuals for inappropriate behavior; jail time, he said, probably would be more of a deterrent.

"I don't think many people look at jail as a way to get a roof over their head," Henderson said. "It takes them away from their support system. It takes them away from their friends, the people they hang out with. Going to jail takes away a lot of important things to them."

Rick Edwards, who has been homeless since November, said he didn't have a problem with the city enacting the aggressive panhandling ban, but said he was concerned about prohibiting camping in parks. He said he thought that would leave many people without a legal place to go when the city's two shelters are full.

"I guess we would just have a lot of people in jail," Edwards said.

Commissioners will discuss the ordinances at their meeting at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

Proposals on begging, loitering, fires

The Lawrence City Commission will consider three ordinances Tuesday that deal with homeless issues: ¢ The first ordinance would ban "aggressive panhandling." It would prohibit repeated attempts to solicit money from the same individual, along with touching them or blocking their path. Panhandlers also would be banned from soliciting within 20 feet of an automatic teller machine, at a bus stop or anyone who is in a vehicle. ¢ The next ordinance would make it illegal to lie or sit on a sidewalk in a way that blocks the path of a pedestrian or requires pedestrians to reroute their course. The ordinance does have exceptions for protests and other activities protected under the First Amendment. ¢ The last ordinance would prohibit camping in city parks or other city-owned property. The ordinance specifically addresses the starting of fires to cook with or to stay warm. That pleased several downtown merchants, who had complained about a series of fires in alley trash bins and on the stoops of front and back doors of their businesses.


usaschools 12 years, 6 months ago

I don't mind a panhandler that simply asks and will accept "no" for an answer without being rude. If the city commission wants to pursue a law about agressive panhandling, I am all for it. Boulder CO has such a law, and it really helped change things in the downtown mall there. As long as panhandlers take "no" for an answer, then I don't see the problem with it in a free country.

blakus 12 years, 6 months ago

I have lived in Lawrence for 20 years and have never encountered a panhandler who was 'aggressive' or who tried to touch me. Not to say that this does not happen, but I would like to know specific incidents in which aggressive behavior did occur. I feel that panhandlers are attracted to Lawrence because this town is full of generous and pleasant people who are willing to give money to those who might need it. If respect is paid to them (which does not mean giving them money) then respect will more than likely be returned.

Ragingbear 12 years, 6 months ago

The big problem that we will see here is simple. The police are never going to activly enforce any of these new rules. You will still have to call the cops yourself, and then file a report. Then they will issue a ticket for the offense. Of course, that transient, or mentally ill homeless person will not show up to court.

It boils down to the issue at hand. We need to treat the problem, and stop treating the symptoms.

Bambam73222 12 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence is the town of plenty people come here from all over because the news has traveled all over that there are a lot of services here. We need to try to help those that want off the streets to accomplish that and those that want to drink and lie in the streets will just have to handle the problems that arise due to their behavior.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

Placing folks in jail will likely require increasing the budget... equals higher taxes. The cost of housing these people in a city jails is not cheap. This money would be better spent on 24 hour shelter. The city jail is an expensive shelter around 200 dollars a day. What will they do after they are released from jail with no job?

We'll be taking up jail space with non violent offenders.

Morgss 12 years, 6 months ago

Digest this one, while we help our fellow humans. LJW Friday.

Koontz said he could afford to attend so many festivals because panhandling had been quite lucrative. "You fly a sign when you go through major cities, and people will help out," he said. "You go fly a sign on a major corner, you can make $200, $300 in a couple of hours. That's a whole paycheck for some people." If anybody resents that, he said, it's because they're chained to their own materialism.

Many homeless know the game. I have not a clue if Mr. Koontz is homeless, but admittedly taking money away from the truly homeless. If Mr. Koontz is injured, most certainly he will get free health care at LMH. (operated by the city of Lawrence) Ask people who work the emergency room. After asking these wonderful public servants who actually pay for their health care, please contemplate our Mr. Koontz. If his panhandling hits a slow season, he will get free meals. When the festivals are over, Mr. Koontz will have a roof over his head. When Mr. Koontz is tired, he will find free lodging, although I cringe at the thought of my taxpayer bucks going for a 200 buck a night sleep-over. If we're going to spend this kind of money, Holiday Inn is offering a Summer deal for $119.00 a night, including breakfast and lunch. A number of other Summer lodging deals are offered as well, but 200 bucks a night?

In Lawrence, we will call Mr. Koontz homeless.

The tragedy and reality of Mr. Koontz life decision is who's going to pay his bills in his retirement years? Many so called homeless, and panhandlers know the answer. You.

Lawrence is becoming a nationally known destination for the homeless. Is this fair? Is this fair for our businesses? Is this fair for our taxpayers? For the person who wrote they had never been inconvenienced by panhandlers (homeless) I suggest you spend a bit more time downtown after midnight.

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