No one likes to see panhandling, especially the aggressive sort. But too often, the government’s response is an overreaction that violates civil rights or, at a minimum, makes life unnecessarily miserable for those with enough misery in their lives.
It’s not always easy to drum up sympathy for panhandlers, but there are plenty of people on our streets who aren’t drug addicts or drunks and, instead, are simply down on their luck.
The Larimer County Commission is about to take up a new panhandling ordinance that, among other things, would establish fines of up to $1,000 for panhandling.
Is that good policy, or an overreaction? You have to wonder: If a panhandler had $1,000, would they bother begging on the streets?
Look, I’m all in favor of making sure panhandlers keep their hands off whomever they’re soliciting.
I agree with making it illegal for panhandlers to keep asking for money “after the person solicited has refused the panhandler’s initial request.”
But I’m afraid we’re going overboard with some of the other provisions in this measure.
For example, as the proposal is currently drafted, panhandling would be prohibited any time from 30 minutes before sunrise or 30 minutes after sunset.
That means no panhandling in the early mornings or evenings, when, of course, most of us lucky enough to have a few disposable dollars are either en route to work or headed to dinner or the movies or whatever. In other words, these are the times of day when a panhandler is fairly likely to run into people.
So that item needs to be re-thought, as does a provision prohibiting panhandlers from approaching anyone in a car stopped on a street.
Under that provision, how are you supposed to hand over that spare change? Should you just throw it at the poor soul?
The proposal also would crack down on panhandlers who cause the “person solicited to reasonably fear for his or her safety.” I think prosecutors would have a tough time with that one. What’s reasonable? What’s unreasonable?
Under the ordinance, panhandling would be banned within 100 feet of an ATM, school grounds, a bus stop and on a bus, or in a parking garage or lot. And no panhandling would be allowed when you’re climbing in or out of your parked car, or having a meal on the patio or sidewalk table at a restaurant.
With so many prohibitions, you have to wonder where and when panhandling might be allowed.
The bottom line: I think a lot of us can say we’re in favor of trying to minimize aggressive forms of panhandling. Panhandlers can scare away business and no one wants that. But this measure merits closer review before the county commissioners adopt it.
“For those of us that are honest about what we’re doing out here, it’s just another way to knock us down,” a panhandler who identified himself as Norman Freel told the Coloradoan.
“Crack down on the bad apples and leave the rest of us alone,” he said. “My sign doesn’t say you must give me anything. I don’t knock on windows. I’m just asking people to give what they can and what they’re willing.”
That sounds reasonable to me, and is a point the commissioners should take to heart before they cast their final vote.
Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.