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Advocates want city to drop proposed panhandling bans


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Homeless advocates in Salt Lake City Wednesday gave the mayor a new report on local panhandlers. They fear that a proposed ordinance to crack down on aggressive panhandling will unfairly affect people without homes and jobs.

This issue of panhandling resurfaced last fall. City leaders cited a growing problem with threatening panhandling. Business leaders launched a campaign to urge people to give to homeless services, rather than panhandlers on the street.

Homeless advocates argue panhandlers need jobs, not citations and new rules. They were joined by a few professed panhandlers, like John Smith, when they delivered their report on homelessness and panhandling to Mayor Ralph Becker's office Wednesday.

Smith said he's been ticketed for panhandling when he was not bothering anyone. He said he's had temporary work, but nothing permanent since the recession started.

"I don't think people should be incarcerated or ticketing for panhandling that they can't afford," says Smith. "They are having difficulties sustaining living."

Facts about panhandlers
Survey by Crossroads Urban Center
  1. The vast majority of panhandlers in Salt Lake City are homeless
  2. Most panhandlers in Salt Lake City are actively looking for work
  3. Most panhandlers have significant barriers to finding lasting employment
  4. Many people are already receiving tickets while panhandling in Salt Lake City
  5. Most panhandlers would rather work for minimum wage than panhandle
  6. Food is the most common thing purchased with money obtained by panhandlers

Crossroads Urban Center recently interviewed 22 people who panhandled in the last month. They found 91 percent are homeless and 86 percent would rather be working a steady job earning minimum wage. They think the city should focus on long term solutions, not laws to target panhandling.

Bill Tibbitts, with the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, said, "We are here to present this report to the Salt Lake City Mayor and redirect this energy that's been directed towards panhandlers, and focus it on helping to create job programs."

According to the Crossroads Urban Center survey of panhandlers:

  • 91 percent are homeless.
  • 86 percent say they would prefer to work a minimum wage job than panhandle.
  • 86 percent say the money goes to food
  • 59 percent on transportation
  • 55 percent on laundry.
  • None surveyed said they spent any money on alcohol, drugs or tobacco.

Forty-one percent say they get less than $5 an hour while panhandling.

These homeless advocates think the city is misdirecting its energy with a proposed panhandling ordinance. They want the mayor to see the survey numbers.

"Our goal is to help give him better evidence so he can make better decisions and hopefully lead the city in a better direction," Tibbitts said.

The mayor's spokesperson said Becker was still looking for solutions and input on the issue. He will meet with homeless advocates Friday.

No panhandling ordinance has come up for a vote in the city. The mayor's office says the proposed ordinance specifically addresses threatening panhandling, and panhandling near ATMs, or panhandling that impedes pedestrian or automobile traffic.

Smith says the city has already gotten tough on panhandlers.

"They have issued an all out assault," says Smith, "and they also incarcerate people for panhandling that are docile and passive."

The mayor's office insists law enforcement has not changed its approach to panhandlers.

A Downtown Alliance >campaign urges people to give to homeless shelters and food pantries, not panhandlers.

Tibbitts says these efforts aren't helping, but instead hurting people down on their luck.

"These types of campaigns don't generate money for the shelters," said Tibbetts. "They just generate bad feelings toward people who are already in an unfortunate situation.

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Story compiled with contributions from Jed Boal and Randall Jeppesen.

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