Thursday, January 24, 2008

Panhandling & the Parkway

Police say that the reason the homeless congregate in camps in the lower part of the Parkway is that it is close to the services they need in the Richards Blvd area and close to their major panhandling venue, the K Street Mall.

Other cities have downtown panhandling problems and they are responding.

Cities crack down on panhandling
By Tracy Loew, USA TODAY

Panhandling on public transportation can get you a year in jail in Medford, Ore. Telling a lie while asking for money in Macon, Ga., is against the law. In Minneapolis, begging in groups has been banned.

Cities across the USA are stepping up efforts to restrict panhandling, especially in downtown shopping areas.

In the past year, more than a dozen municipalities — from Olympia, Wash., to Orlando — have passed or strengthened such ordinances.

At least four more are close to adoption in Texas, Hawaii, North Carolina and Washington state.

Cities have enacted laws targeting the homeless for two decades, including bans on sleeping outdoors or loitering. In the past few years, the focus has turned to panhandling restrictions, said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

That's partly because more cities are trying to redevelop their downtowns, Foscarinis said.

"No one likes to see destitute people in the city center. No one likes to walk down the street and be asked for change," she said.

That was the case in Louisville, which passed a panhandling ordinance last month.

"We've really been revitalizing downtown," city spokesman Chris Poynter said. "We have new restaurants, especially with outdoor seating. People were just over and over panhandling patrons as they sat outside."

Other cities, such as Honolulu, are worried about tourism.

"I'm trying to make sure tourists are comfortable visiting Hawaii and are not constantly accosted for money," said Honolulu City Council member Charles K. Djou, who is pushing a ban on panhandling near ATMs.

Homeless advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union consider begging to be free speech, protected by the First Amendment.

"The purpose of the laws is to drive the visible homeless out of the downtown areas," said Michael Stoops, acting director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. "We believe that people have a right to beg, and citizens have a right to give or not to give."