City can set rules for handout seekers

It may be for the best that the city of Grand Junction’s hastily developed ordinances regarding panhandling and solicitation were killed this week. With questions such as how the rules might affect charitable organizations seeking donations in public places, additional work is needed.

But that certainly doesn’t mean the city should abandon its efforts to place some restrictions on how panhandling is conducted in this city.

When panhandlers are endangering themselves and motorists by stepping into the street and banging on car windows to demand money, some action is needed. When too many of them are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs as they beg, problems are inevitable. And when some drivers do all they can to avoid certain intersections because of the prevalence and aggressiveness of panhandlers, the city shouldn’t simply ignore the problem.

Even a brief review of court cases — and we trust City Attorney John Shaver has done far more in-depth research — shows that some restrictions could be enacted.

Begging and panhandling — including the use of signs — are generally considered protected forms of free speech under the First Amendment. Municipalities have had little luck in banning such activities outright.

But communities across the country have successfully adopted ordinances that prohibit panhandling and other forms of solicitation at certain times or in certain locations for safety reasons. Others have adopted rules to prohibit aggressive forms of begging, including such things as making physical contact with people and repeatedly accosting them.

Others have worked with homeless advocates to enact panhandling restrictions while ensuring other services are adequate.

Grand Junction and Mesa County already have a variety of programs to serve the homeless, although a review of those programs may be expedient.

But we hope the City Council won’t be cowed by those who object to any form of regulation concerning panhandling. It’s true, as one sign proclaimed at Monday’s City Council meeting, that “Homelessness is not ilegal.” But attempting to establish some rules on panhandling is not tantamount to making criminals of the homeless. Moreover, only a small percentage of the homeless are said to engage in panhandling.

For several years, Grand Junction had some success in curbing panhandling by discouraging people from giving money to those begging at street corners. That effort should continue.

But, as the number of panhandlers in the city seems to have grown, and the tactics of some have unquestionably become more aggressive, the city has an obligation to seek means of protecting all of its inhabitants, not just those who beg for money.


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