March 3, 2010
Vol: 17 No: 10


Proposed panhandling law too broad, critics say

By Cydney Gillis / Staff Reporter

Getting at crime or the homeless?

Councilmember Tim Burgess Photo courtesy Seattle City Council

Daimey, left, and Flitter panhandle on a city street. A proposed new law, put forth by Councilmember Tim Burgess, would fine panhandlers who practice "aggressive solicitation" -- following someone or asking for money within 15 feet of ATMs or parking meters -- $50.

Photo by Katia Roberts / Contributing Photographer

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It’s a Sunday afternoon and, just across the street from the downtown Seattle Art Museum, a panhandler by the name of Gerald is walking a fine line in the eyes of city law.

As pedestrians pass him at the corner of First Avenue and Union Street, Gerald thrusts out a paper coffee cup and asks for change. At other times, he walks up to passersby with his cup, in some cases coming up behind them after they have passed.

No one appears troubled by the nearly toothless 52-year-old, who says he got hit by a car years ago and hasn’t worked since. He’s been homeless off and on and now lives in a subsidized downtown studio, which he pays for with $339 a month that he gets from a state disability program. But that, he says, doesn’t cover food, clothing or laundry. “The only way to earn my living expenses,” Gerald says, “is with panhandling.”

If Gerald were to step in front of anyone, he could risk being charged under a 1993 Seattle law that prohibits aggressive panhandling as a form of pedestrian interference. But in the near future, if he keeps walking up behind people or should get too close to a parking meter or bank machine, a controversial new law proposed last week by Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess could subject Gerald to a $50 ticket from a police officer, whether or not a passerby complained about him.

Burgess says his aggressive solicitation ordinance is patterned after a similar law passed in Tacoma in 2007 and is narrowly aimed at specific behaviors



Curious was the Joel Connelly piece in the P-I where he used the subject to take a free shot at (paraphrasing) the 'obstructionists' exercising their rights on the Viaduct and 520. Go figure!

Douglas Tooley | submitted on 03/04/2010, 8:40pm

Just another example of the City council grasping at straws to raise more revenue in a sinking economy. All this will do is create more (prisoners, prisons). But of coarse then they can increase our bill for Law Enforcement again. So maybe the CAN get more money out a half asleep public.

Donald Littleton | submitted on 03/05/2010, 5:36pm

We have a law in Milwaukee against aggressive panhandling. Problem is that interpretation is used by the arresting officer with no complainant needed to discourage homeless folk from some of the more fashional parts of the city. Tickets that cant be paid add up and it just weighs against an already taxed court system and jail.

Leroy | submitted on 03/05/2010, 7:10pm

I've already contacted Burgess directly about the increasingly hostile attitude toward the poor, especially downtown. But now I have an additional wonder--if people are hit with tickets, and can't pay them, will they be disenfranchised, as felons too often are for being too poor to be able to pay fines?

Valerie Shubert | submitted on 03/05/2010, 9:52pm

You neglected to mention that the aggressive panhandling restriction is just one part of an overall plan that is positive for all downtown residents, homeless or not. On balance, I think it's a reasonable approach. A majority of downtown residents are sick of aggressive panhandlers, and identical laws have worked well in Tacoma. The Burgess plan includes: 1. Return of fixed-beat police foot patrols in specific areas. 2. Continued hiring of new police officers to enable full implementation of the Neighborhood Policing Plan. 3. Well-defined restrictions on aggressive solicitation on city streets. 4. Expanded scope and better coordination of street outreach offering support services to homeless individuals. 5. Increased housing capacity combined with support services for the homeless and individuals struggling with mental health and/or chemical dependency challenges.

Lego | submitted on 03/08/2010, 2:25pm

Just another step to gentrification. Loss of income from the de facto decriminalization of marijauna leads councilmen seeking to roust more tax money from our pockets through the dispensing of fear. The "crime problem" in the South Lake Union area has increased in direct proportion to the increase in development and tenancy in that same area. The statistical percentage per capita holds: there is no crime wave, as we would be led to believe. Further marginalization of the poorest sector of the community ( and they are part of the community, whether you like them or not ) WILL lead to higher crime rates as desperation leads to action. A hungry man is an angry man...whether they hunger for food or booze or drugs. Panhandling is percieved as a nusiance to what? To the "Haves" being shamed? Time and time again, the results of police and municipalities using these tactics has shown that the old adage rings true: Beg, Borrow, Steal. A homeless person cannot borrow, for they have no property. If you dictate that they cannot beg, where do they end up? Of course, the bigot will put the cart before the horse. "Not so, say Burgess and City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office worked with Burgess on the legislation. Both say police officers will be well trained in the types of situations in which to issue tickets and that the law will serve as a tool to help get people off the street and into services offered through the city

Fred Cave | submitted on 03/10/2010, 10:29pm

I lived in Seattle and it is one of the cruelest cities towards homeless and mentally challenged.

Sassy Grace | submitted on 03/14/2010, 6:49pm

Should Council members intact ordinances upon the public without credible research and study?

Sam Fisher | submitted on 03/16/2010, 11:29pm

"aggressive solicitation ordinance" ???? Let's ponder this. I can't stop the aggresive solicitation in my snail mail. I can't stop the aggresive solicitation in my email. I can't stop the aggresive solicitation from taking over my computer. I can't stop the aggresive solicitation on my phone. I can't stop the aggresive solicitation from my own government. I can't stop the aggresive solicitation takeovers by corporations destroying America's small business competition. You can try AGGRESIVELY with everything you've got to stop these LEGAL parasites, and you can't. PERIOD. But, the city wants to make it illegal to ask for spare change? I aggressively SPIT on the city council.

tenor_sax | submitted on 03/24/2010, 5:32pm

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