Fort Worth

Fort Worth council wants to consider aggressive panhandling ordinance

Council members Ann Zadeh, Kelly Allen Gray, Zim Zimmerman and Cary Moon take part as the Fort Worth City Council meets  on Sept. 13, 2016. Moon wants the council to consider making it illegal to give to panhandlers in the city.
Council members Ann Zadeh, Kelly Allen Gray, Zim Zimmerman and Cary Moon take part as the Fort Worth City Council meets on Sept. 13, 2016. Moon wants the council to consider making it illegal to give to panhandlers in the city. rmallison@star-telegram.com

The City Council gave the city staff the nod Tuesday to proceed with writing a more aggressive panhandling ordinance that one councilman wants to see contain language making it illegal to give money to beggars.

Councilman Cary Moon said residents when asked by a panhandler for money would be able to say no, and to tell the panhandler it’s illegal to do so.

“We can make it illegal to give to a panhandler in a public area,” Moon said. “We can treat it as a life-safety issue.”

He referenced such an ordinance as a “John ordinance,” likening it to an ordinance that makes it illegal for a person to solicit a prostitute.

The staff told the council during its weekly work session that a draft ordinance can be ready for their consideration by the end of March.

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, who a year ago along with Moon began questioning the city’s panhandling ordinances, said a new ordinance can’t come soon enough.

“What concerns me is, if we’re not careful, we’re entering the holiday season and somebody’s going to get hurt,” Bivens said, and then recalled when a panhandler approached her as she got out of her car while shopping.

Panhandling is a business, it is not a status. A panhandler has no desire to get social services. A panhandler is there to make a dollar.

Fort Worth Councilwoman Gyna Bivens

“If I hadn’t been aggressive to get her off of me, it would have been a real unpleasant situation,” Bivens said. “Panhandling is a business, it is not a status. A panhandler has no desire to get social services. A panhandler is there to make a dollar.”

The council was told that the new ordinance will likely contain language that prohibits panhandling within 50 feet of areas where a person would feel vulnerable, such as an automated teller machine, at a parking meter or at the entrance to a restaurant, and within 20 feet of a marked crosswalk.

“Panhandling is a difficult issue for us to manage,” said Assistant Police Chief Ken Dean. On one hand, officers don’t want to deter people from giving, he said, but “aggressive panhandling is getting out of control.”

Some panhandlers are homeless, but rather than arrest them, police take them to get social service help, he said.

We can’t arrest ourselves out of the problem. Quite frankly, we have a lot of other things to do. We’re struggling a little bit.

Fort Worth Assistant Police Chief Ken Dean

“We can’t arrest ourselves out of the problem,” Dean said. “Quite frankly, we have a lot of other things to do. We’re struggling a little bit.”

Moreover, signs placed around the city that say that soliciting from the roadway is prohibited are also becoming less effective, Dean said.

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said a new ordinance needs to be a multi-pronged approach, one that gives officers more latitude.

“We’re doing the best we can to target those aggressive panhandlers who are coming in contact with people,” Fitzgerald said.

Under a proposed ordinance, soliciting by charitable groups will still be allowed, but the intersections where that can occur will be spelled out, rather than where they cannot.

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