Down on the corner, city has concerns about safety in aggressive solicitations
Dorothea Locke said she doesn’t like the way she makes money, but she thinks it’s unfair she could get arrested for it starting Monday night.
“I hate this. If I didn’t have to do this, I wouldn’t,” Locke said Friday as she took a break from holding a sign on the northwest corner of Pitkin Avenue and Fifth Street that read: “Anything Does Help, Even a Smile.”
But the Grand Junction City Council may frown on panhandling.
The council will vote Monday on whether to adopt two city ordinances that would make it a misdemeanor to solicit money by way of waving a sign or any other method within 50 feet of a roadway, in a median, or in an aggressive manner.
If the ordinances pass, they would become effective immediately. Anyone caught violating the rules could be fined up to $1,000 or sent to jail for up to year, although City Attorney
John Shaver said a fine would be the more likely sentence because of limited space in the county jail.
Mayor Bruce Hill said the rule will protect drivers and solicitors.
“A huge part of it is safety. We’re making sure not to trample on freedom of speech,” Hill said.
Both ordinances say the number of solicitors on or near city streets has jumped recently and could increase as the recession continues. Hill said no count has been done to confirm that claim, but he has personally seen more solicitors around town.
Meanwhile, Grand Junction Police Department spokeswoman Kate Porras said the city has received “a number of complaints in recent months about aggressive solicitation.”
The ordinances say, “There is a high incidence of solicitors being under the influence” of drugs or alcohol. Locke, 55, said she has seen solicitors so drunk they can hardly stand up while holding their signs. She said she does not drink, and uses her income for living expenses and to call her daughter in Arkansas.
“This is the only income we have right now. If they take that away from us, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Locke said.
The ordinances will restrict solicitors from coming within 50 feet of a roadway, measured from the curb, or within 15 feet of a building entrance, an entrance to a public toilet, ATM machine, downtown commercial vendor, bank, credit union, check-cashing business, or pay phone. Solicitors of any sort would not be allowed to solicit on buses, in medians, islands, parking lots, parking spaces, bus stops, bus stations or train stations.
Solicitors may be arrested for soliciting in groups of two or more, lying about how they will use the money or their need for the money, consuming drugs or alcohol before soliciting, behaving aggressively in a public place, asking people standing in line for money, using threatening gestures or language, not taking no for an answer, blocking a person’s path, touching the person, following a person, or speaking in and “unreasonably loud” voice while soliciting.
The rule may imply people looking for a quarter alone will be affected. But Hill said the rule applies to everyone in danger of falling into the street.
“It’s a safety issue; that goes for cheerleaders doing a car wash. They shouldn’t be in the median,” Hill said.
Council members discussed aggressive soliciting trends before a council meeting June 17.
During that discussion, Councilwoman Bonnie Beckstein revealed a solicitor hit her car at an intersection when she wouldn’t look at the male solicitor.
Locke said she does not approve of violent solicitors, but warned they would likely move to the outskirts of the city and keep soliciting if the ordinances pass Monday.