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SPOKANE, Wash.- The panhandling ordinance passed by the Spokane City Council in August is now in effect.  

As of October 6, 2012, the ordinance makes soliciting for money in major arterials and intersections in downtown Spokane between Boone and 7th and Maple and Hamilton illegal. 

Panhandlers will now face a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000 and 60 days in jail if convicted.  

Before the measure went into effect, Baristo Manual Martinez told us that he would see people begging for money at the intersection near his coffee shop on a daily basis. 

"I'd have people all over the place," Manual Martinez said.  

However, since Saturday, he has already seen a change in the number of people soliciting money around his business.  

"I haven't noticed anyone out here for that last couple days," Martinez said. 

However, even with the new measure, there are still panhandlers downtown.  

One police officer patrolling the area told us that at this point, they are only giving out verbal warnings until everyone is aware of the change.  

One man we spoke with Tuesday did receive a verbal warning from police, but was still standing outside on a street corner holding his sign downtown. 

 "He told me that if he caught me again, I was going to be arrested," Brian Peters said. 

Peters also told us that many panhandlers he knows plan to just move around more often instead of standing in one spot like they do now.  

However, the change have left many like Peters, trying to figure out they will do now.  

"Maybe call it quits because my other friend said he is going to help me today. He says I don't need to be out there doing that," Peters said.  

The new law does not make it illegal to stand outside with a sign. If that were the case, it would violate free speech laws.  Instead, the activity becomes illegal when a person starts asking for money and reaches out in the street to take it.  

Spokane Valley also has a no panhandling ordinance. Now that one is also in effect downtown, many hope it will reduce the number of panhandlers in the area.   

"I could see why they did it because it is a hassle. You know I can't walk downtown without somebody asking me you know for money," Martinez said.      

Matt Christensen who was eating outside at a restaurant downtown said he has never been bothered by the panhandlers, but can understand why the ordinance was passed.  

"For a lot of people, it hits them in the heart and they can't say no, so I don't think they want people being bothered with that," Christensen said. 


I'm currently performing in the musical, "Cabaret", which takes place in Berlin, Germany during the years 1930 and 1931.  I was wondering about the state that Germany was in and what conditions were like for those in poverty.  Any information you have would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

Germany in 1930-1931 was not a happy country. The world economic crisis from the stock market crash hit Germany particularly hard. Unemployment skyrocketed, eventually reaching 30% in late-1932 (the bottom of the crisis, at it turned out). But the crisis did not hit everyone equally and not at the same time. The large industrialists mostly got through all right. The middle class suffered more and some went to bankruptcy but generally speaking the class as a whole was not hit as hard as the lower and working class, who suffered most as unemployed. It had never been easy to be poor in Germany or anywhere, but the early 1930s were particularly hard for the poor, who saw government help dwindled, if not disappeared altogether (the German government was the most generous in terms of social assistance in the 1920s). Many resorted to panhandling and doing menial, temporary jobs, if there were any. Overall, Germany in 1930-31 was in a depressing state, but not as bad as it would become in late 1932 to early 1933.

What are the panhandling laws in Washington state ?

Obviously, I am desperate. I have a job, but get minimal hours a week. Have been looking for another or a different full time job but haven't had luck yet in this time and age. My bank account is overdrawn and I really just need to make some cash. I have been trying to find info online about the laws in Washington but haven't been able to find anything. If anyone knows the laws please help! I have seen many people standing on freeway exits and that's what I want to do. Or sitting on a busy sidewalk. Anyone have any advice?

If you are standing on freeway exits, you will eventually be contacted by a state trooper. Usually they will give you one warning before issuing a citation - but they aren't required to do so. If you want to get traffic coming off of a freeway, make sure you are all the way off of the off ramp.

County and city codes deal with panhandling in areas off of the interstates and highways - and I'd be willing to bet that King County is different from Spokane County which is different from Snohomish County. Virtually every jurisdiction bans aggressive panhandling - which would involve you blocking the sidewalk or physically approaching people for money.

Police Chief Rick Van Leuven delivered the good news to the Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday evening: A tough new panhandling law seems to be working.

But, he said, that doesn’t mean the begging has altogether stopped.
“The panhandling has moved to other locations,” Van Leuven said. “And aggressive panhandling (in those locations) has increased.”

One spot that has seen a spike in panhandling is the city of Millwood, just north across Trent Avenue, where one man reportedly knocked on doors of homes to ask to borrow a barbecue grill. Shoppers have also been approached by those asking for handouts at businesses in the area.

The Spokane Valley ordinance, which went into effect Aug. 25, was tempered by a two-week warning and education period. That move, Van Leuven said, had the desired effect of getting panhandlers to move on without arrests.

“That two-week education was one of the best things we’ve done,” Van Leuven said. “We got compliance and gave warnings to a little over 50 people.”

Only one citation has been issued since the law went into effect, he said, and that offender had been warned previously by police.

Van Leuven said most of the panhandlers from this area have gotten wise to the new law, which makes it a misdemeanor to ask for money on busy roads – or use a sign to do so -- and for anyone to step into traffic to accept money from drivers.

“We’re approaching this as a safety issue,” the chief said, adding that the panhandlers that were often seen at busy intersections like Argonne and the freeway interchange or at Pines and Sprague “are now gone.”

The maximum punishment is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
Now that the warnings have been delivered to the locals, Van Leuven says it’s a more typical scenario now that panhandlers come from other areas and simply aren’t aware of the law.

“An officer stopped a couple of transients from the west side,” the chief said. “They didn’t want to break the law, and they were more than happy to move on.”

Law enforcement is also working with the state Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol to help clear brush near freeway interchanges, particularly at Sullivan Road, where transients often set up camp to consume the alcohol they purchase from money from handouts.

While Millwood officials have said they don’t have any plans for drafting a panhandling ordinance of their own at this time, the new law – which had been in development for years by city attorneys – has been a success story in Spokane Valley.
“I believe that the ordinance has been extremely effective,” Van Leuven said. “We’ve had better-than-expected compliance.”

Council Member Rose Dempsey said that the results have been “astonishing.”
“You done a good job,” she told the chief.

SPOKANE VALLEY - Its an issue that's been debated for months, but the Spokane Valley City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will make panhandling illegal in parts of the city on Tuesday Night.

The new law prohibits pedestrians from soliciting donations from vehicles on state and federal roadways including principal arterials. Interstate 90 on and off ramps are also off limits.

With the ordinance in place, people who get caught, could be fined or arrested.

"We want to educate the people and the public as much as possible that this new ordinance is in effect. Our whole goal is to reduce the public safety aspect of this," says Police Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven, who will be responsible for enforcing the ordinance.

Panhandling has become a growing problem here in the Valley. According to Chief VanLeuven, his department has seen a spike in problem calls connected to those soliciting on area roadways in the last month.

"Panhandling related incidents those typically involve fights, trespass and potentially aggressive behavior," says VanLeuven.

Spokane Valley drivers are all too familiar with the cardboard sign pleas that read: "homeless," or "out of work," or "need to support my family."

"People have to make a living, so I figure if that's what they've gotta do, that's what they gotta do," says Robert Hammond who lives in the Spokane Valley.

Others say panhandling has become a real nuisance.

"Several friends of mine that have given money out to them and they're making more money then you. And then it goes right back into drinking and drugs," says Spokane Valley resident Mike Savage.

The City Council claims the main push for the ordinance is to protect the public and traffic flow, but not everyone is convinced that the ordinance will be effective.

"We will see some of our panhandlers just moving down the line. I would like to think we can care for the poor in our community without forcing them to go elsewhere," said long-time Valley resident Evie Crossman during Tuesday night's public comment period.

Spokane Valley Police say they'll give the public and panhandlers a two to three week grace period before enforcing the new law.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane city councilman Mike Allen, concerned that panhandlers can be a real turnoff for visitors and businesses alike, is looking at ways to discourage panhandling at busy intersections.

The idea of restricting panhandlers is not without precedent in Spokane County; in 2010 Spokane Valley adopted an ordinance that banned panhandling within 100 feet of arterial intersections and freeway on-ramps.

Even though violators were threatened with little more than tickets, Spokane Valley managed to send most of its panhandlers packing.

When Valley panhandlers lost their ability to turn a curbside profit, many of them migrated to the Spokane where even today generous motorists hand over $10 to $20 an hour.

Monday morning Allen Bercier was panhandling at 3rd and Division. Understandably he's opposed to any new restrictions on panhandling in Spokane.

"It will affect me a lot because I won't be able to afford my bills, my rent," he said.

Councilman Mike Allen says Spokane can't afford to have panhandlers right where freeway travelers get their first look at our city.

"It can have a very negative effect on our businesses if we don't cleanup our gateways and offer a generous reception and put our best foot forward when people come to visit us," Allen said.

Allen has taken Spokane Valley's restrictive panhandling ordinance and asked the city attorney's office if it can be put to work in Spokane. He worries drivers are being generous to a fault and funding other problems like alcoholism and litter.

"A lot of the folks end up being enabled in the lifestyle they are choosing and it's a concern. It's not only bad for our gateways, it's bad for our community. We really want to find them the help that they need," he said.

Councilman Allen hopes to present a draft of his panhandling ordinance to the city council next month. He's anxious to get his proposal moving forward because he knows panhandling problems always get worse as the weather warms up.

A new city ordinance could curb panhandling on major city roads, but is it really about keeping people safe?

Carla Alderman’s cardboard sign says “Need help - smiles, $$, food.” “It’s embarrassing,” she says. “Smiles help a lot.”

Alderman, 50, clutches the sign with both hands on a hot Friday morning at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street, just off the freeway in downtown Spokane. A pair of reading glasses poke out of a pocket on her white polka-dot tank top. She says an injury from a recent car accident left her out of work and bouncing between shelters and friends’ houses. She’s been holding a sign here almost every day for about two weeks, making about $20-$30 a day.

“I just don’t know what else to do,” she says.

Alderman says she hopes she won’t have to panhandle much longer. But, if some city officials get their way next week, she won’t have a choice.

A proposed city ordinance would outlaw stepping into certain main streets to take money or goods from vehicles. (It would apply to state routes, on and off-ramps, principal arterials or the first 100 feet of a road that intersects with any of those.)

While it wouldn’t outlaw holding a sign asking for money or help, it would effectively quash the practice unless drivers pulled into parking spots to give handouts.

Councilman Mike Allen, who introduced the proposal to City Council Monday, says it’s a matter of public safety.

“When people reach into the street, it becomes a safety issue,” he says. “If I’m a driver, I don’t want to hit somebody, and if I’m in the street, I don’t want to be hit.”

The Spokane Homeless Coalition and the nonprofit Center for Justice say they support the resolution. But other homeless advocates say instances of people getting hurt in the process are rare.

Lee Nelson, who works in homeless outreach for the Community Health Association of Spokane, hands out new socks and hygiene kits to people in need around Spokane and helps connect them with CHAS’s medical services.

“I’ve never heard of anybody falling or getting hit because of panhandling, and I talk to a lot of people who panhandle,” Nelson says. “This is another way for the city to clean up the area, if you want to call it that —” or to push away the problem.”

Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams, whose department responds to all emergency medical 911 calls, says he doesn’t hear about many injuries related to people stepping into the street to collect money or food from passing cars. The department doesn’t categorize calls based on whether the injured person was panhandling at the time of injury, he says, so he doesn’t have exact data.

“That is not something that is a reoccurring problem,” he says. “We have responded from time to time, but they are not a high-frequency response.”

Officer Tim Ottmar, the C.O.P.S. neighborhood resource officer for downtown and the South Hill, says he works with much of the city’s homeless population and only occasionally hears of people getting hurt by taking money from drivers. But he argues the ordinance is a “positive step” anyway.

“There’s not going to be a risk every single time, but it only takes one or two times of somebody getting injured,” Ottmar says. “We have to make sure they’re safe.”

Alderman says she doesn’t feel in danger as long as she pays attention and doesn’t cross lanes of traffic unless she’s sure the light will be red long enough for her to get there safely.

“It just takes common sense,” she says.

Councilman Allen insists his biggest worry is about safety, but says citizens also complain that people asking for money on the street are a blight and may use what they’re given for drugs or alcohol.

Nelson, from CHAS, says that’s not an entirely unrealistic concern. He sees some people who “fly signs” use the money for alcohol or drugs, while others use it for food or hotel rooms to avoid sleeping on the street.

Richard Henderson, 62, admits he uses the $30 he makes in an average day on the corner of Third and Division for “beer and weed.” That’s because he’s able to get plenty of food from various shelters and kitchens around town, he says.

Johnny Black, who after seven years in jail recently took to panhandling on streets and sidewalks around Spokane, says he’s honest with people he asks for money.

“I’m not embarrassed to ask people, to tell them, ‘Hey I’m just trying to get a cold one,’” he says.

But Linda Nelson, 28, and David Parisia, 41, who usually hold their signs on Jefferson Street near the freeway, say they’re “barely surviving.” Nelson, who’s homeless and seven months pregnant, says three years ago she could make $200 a day holding a sign. Now, she makes about $20, which she says she spends on food or trying to save for a place to live once her baby is born.

“Not everybody is out there just for their beer or their weed,” she says. “People are just trying to survive.”

Caught in the crossfire of the ordinance are local nonprofit groups that take to the streets to raise money. Firefighters solicit donations from cars in their annual “fill the boot” campaign to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and each April brings a penny drive from the Guild School, which serves 200 local children with developmental delays or disabilities. If the ordinances passes, those events wouldn’t be allowed in the street.

The Guild School raises about $70,000 during its one-day drive when volunteers man 16 sites across the city and in Spokane Valley. In 2010 Spokane Valley passed an ordinance Allen calls identical to the one he’s trying to pass. Guild School Director Dick Boysen says the group made half as much in the Valley once that ordinance took effect, and they had to direct traffic into a parking lot rather than taking money from cars in the street.

“It would be devastating,” Boysen says of a similar ordinance passing in Spokane. The school raises 35 percent of its $3 million budget privately through donations and events, including the penny drive.

Allen says he wants to exclude nonprofits from the ordinance, but his hands are tied. To allow certain groups to step into the street to solicit donations, while denying others the same right, would be unconstitutional.

“You can’t treat people differently based on their status,” says Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU of Washington.

Governments will never be able to fully outlaw panhandling, Honig says, but they can impose restrictions if they can prove they’re reasonable regulations of time, place and manner rather than of the speech itself.

“Free speech includes the right to ask for money,” Honig says. “The fact that it may be uncomfortable for the person they’re asking to hear the request doesn’t mean they can’t make it.”

Restrictions like this “have to be based on very reasonable safety issues, not simply on wanting to clean up the appearance of a city,” he says.

But the government isn’t required to prove that unless someone challenges it in court, and Allen says he’s confident in what he’s introduced.

“Our hope is to get the people who really need help the help they need,” he says, “and clean up our gateways at the same time.”



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