Little patience to spare

Grand Junction council eyes restrictions on panhandling

A panhandler begs near the entrance to Walmart on Rimrock Avenue on Monday, a few feet from a sign that says, “Giving Spare Change Won’t Make a Change.” The Grand Junction City Counci is expected to consider a proposed panhandling ordinance Wednesday.

Asking for spare change will likely be a little trickier in coming months in Grand Junction.

Grand Junction city councilors during a meeting Monday afternoon signaled they are ready to ratify a first reading of a panhandling ordinance at their meeting Wednesday night.

The ordinance doesn’t outlaw panhandling, but it places restrictions on how someone can go about asking for money.

It limits the times of day, the locations and the manner in which someone is allowed to panhandle.

For example, if the ordinance is passed, panhandlers could not ask for money a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise; they cannot request donations in an obscene manner; and they cannot ask for money from others within 100 feet of an automated teller machine or a public bus stop.

Diners at outdoor restaurants also should be covered by the ordinance, as panhandlers are not allowed to approach those areas in search of a handout.

In 2013, the Grand Junction Police Department fielded 439 calls from residents complaining or concerned about panhandlers. Of those, 377 incidents were in the city limits, Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said.

He said most those calls were citizens concerned about the welfare of panhandlers, but the department also received an increasing number of calls of aggressive panhandlers, especially on Grand Junction’s Main Street.

“We’re getting more complaints from women,” Camper said. “Their refusals to donate were followed with taunts and cat calls.”

Homeless Outreach Team officer Cindy Cohn told councilors on Monday that having an ordinance would allow officers to educate panhandlers, and hopefully curb the incidents of it. When the city passed the camping ban, it allowed officers with the Homeless Outreach Team to educate vagrants on the new ordinances and gave some of them time to find other accommodations other than sleeping near the Colorado River.

“Just because we have (an ordinance) doesn’t mean we have to write a bunch of tickets,” Cohn said.

Grand Junction officials have been grappling for years with how to craft a panhandling ordinance that would not butt up against First Amendment, or freedom of speech, rights.

A number of other municipalities have been legally challenged by outlawing panhandling altogether. Grand Junction’s ordinance closely mirrors one used in unincorporated Larimer County that was drafted after panhandlers on busy intersections sometimes spilled into the roadway, causing safety concerns and nearly creating traffic crashes.

“I think it’s a good ordinance, but we’re not being overly dictatorial,” City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said. “It’s a balancing act, but I think it’s a good one.”

Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver said he passed along Grand Junction’s ordinance to the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s not required, but, Shaver said, he felt that it was a proactive measure. The ACLU did question Grand Junction’s camping ban, Shaver said, making sure that those restrictions didn’t impede on personal rights.


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