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Sunday, Feb 23 2014 11:02 PM

SOUNDING BOARD: Questions about panhandling ordinance remain

What do you think about a proposed city ordinance that would prohibit panhandlers and people attempting to "solicit in an aggressive manner in any public place"? That's the question we posed to members of The Californian's Sounding Board.

There doesn't seem to be an easy answer, and not just because Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army bell-ringers and other similar groups also could fall under this proposed crackdown on solicitation. How will it be enforced? Can the problem be fixed? These are just some of the questions.

Here are some of the responses:

 

Often, the panhandling debate is centered on "our" position: how we feel when approached. There are other questions also to be considered:

Why am I being approached? What drives some people into such humiliating doings? Or, why are others so deadened they feel no humiliation?

Why in all my travels in Germany have I never been approached except by foreigners? Is there something about the German mentality that will not allow a person to appear publicly in such a compromised position? And why is it lacking here?

Is there something about the collective German mentality? Perhaps a social contract stating they will rarely allow a fellow German to sink to such need? Why does the so-called safety net in the U.S. have such large gaps with so many falling through?

Whatever happened to the basic bond in America: the family, or "the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in"?

Where is Jesus, the wanderer, in this discussion? For years, he subsisted on the goodwill of others to sustain him. He said, "Give to those who ask from you." The Bible calls it hardness of heart to see another in need and not to help. Are we supposed to be like God, who sends his sunshine and rain even upon those who don't deserve it? Do we give, not because others need it, but because we need to? Questions, questions, questions. How they trouble us.

Bob Schwartz is a retired pastor who served 40 years in California, Nevada and Germany.

 

Panhandling, per se, should be not be punishable. I haven't really read the ordinance, but the way it sounds, it could be an unconstitutional restriction or infringement of an individual's basic rights.

When panhandling evolves into open extortion, then it may become a crime or a social issue that needs to be addressed. But what are the parameters or the boundary line that separates the two? What is "aggressive manner"? Are they clearly defined in the proposed ordinance? Our honorable council members might be treading on loose constitutional grounds.

The proposed ordinance is a typical knee-jerk reaction to a social concern that may not be eliminated by makeshift legislation or a local ordinance. Except for a lazy few, nobody would like to panhandle in the first place. It is the last recourse for anybody whose luck has run out. Admittedly, panhandling is a built-in societal problem, and it always exists in varying degrees of intensity in various places all over the world. It thrives even outside the premises of the Vatican -- a stark contrast to the pomp, pageantry and regal splendor inside its walls.

It takes an elitist, exclusive, authoritarian and very closed society to attempt to eliminate panhandling "as we know it." But certainly not in a place, country or city with democratic pretensions -- or avowed Christian values.

Manuel D. Fuderanan is an engineer with the city of Bakersfield.

 

If other cities can configure an ordinance to eliminate aggressive panhandling -- yet protect First Amendment rights for charities -- Bakersfield surely should be able to do the same.

The solution lies in how "aggressive panhandling" is defined. One common definition of "panhandling" is "approaching strangers and begging for money or food."

When you precede this term with the adjective "aggressive," the description couldn't be more clear. Merriam-Webster shows these synonyms for aggressive: "assertive," "in-your-face," "pushy."

Examples of aggressive panhandling in ordinances of other cities include:

* Recklessly making physical contact with another person without consent.

* Intentionally blocking the free passage of the person being solicited.

* Using obscene or abusive language or gestures.

This distinction between an "aggressive panhandler" and a charity passively ringing bells for a kettle drive couldn't be more clear. Any local ordinance should draw this same distinction.

As one of a multitude of Rotarians who have rung Salvation Army bells over the years, I've never observed aggressive or "in-your-face" behavior. It's the "pushy" panhandlers who need to be pushed off our streets. Ironically, it's our city's charities who ultimately offer -- and deliver -- help to these same homeless.

John Pryor of Bakersfield is a risk management consultant.

 

This is a very timely topic for me personally, as my husband came home from a trip to downtown just a few days ago complaining about being followed and harassed by a shaggy woman beggar.

He was close to the GET bus stop on Chester Avenue and saw several folks doing the same as this woman. My husband was injured in an accident and walks with two canes, so this was particularly concerning for my him. He easily could have been knocked to the ground. While I don't think more laws will help, they will give business owners in the affected areas a basis to file complaint. I carry pepper spray in my hand whenever I go to Valley Plaza or downtown, hoping I can defend myself somewhat. I know the Bakersfield Police Department isn't always available, and loitering laws aren't enforced to any degree in either location.

Karen E. Wass of Arvin is a retired real estate broker.

 

The ordinance certainly has a feel-good sound to those who are pestered by panhandlers. However, does the ordinance provide enforcement funds? If not, enforcement will distract from more important police business: house break-ins, traffic speeding, texting or talking on cell phones, speeding through stop lights. These presently go unenforced because of lack of police officers, or the cost-to-reward ratio is not worth the bother.

I'm sorry to be so cynical, but the ordinance will probably be enforced only if an officer is particularly offended by a panhandler. Does that merit passing the ordinance? Let wisdom prevail in the council room.

Jon Crawford of Bakersfield is a semi-retired production and evaluation and petroleum engineer.

 

We have an ongoing homeless and panhandling problem in Bakersfield (as in all cities) and I recommend that we form a panel of citizens to study the problem and see what other communities are doing about it.

I have been reading about the panhandling problem in The Californian and it occurs to me that there is no simple solution to this continuing problem, and that it is tied to the homeless problem. I volunteer to be on that study panel and see if we can come up with some long range reasonable and humane solutions to the whole problem of homelessness and panhandling in our community.

Phil Ryall of Bakersfield is a geologist.

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