When we asked members of The Californian's Sounding Board for their thoughts on a proposed city ordinance that would prohibit panhandling and "aggressive" solicitation, their responses were as diverse as they were ample. Some readers think the ordinance is a good first step in remedying a long-term issue, while others feel it unfairly lumps nonprofit endeavors like Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army with problem panhandlers. Some believe a humane approach is the only acceptable path, but others say there is no easy fix, and that an ordinance would waste time and resources.
Here are some responses:
I look forward to a solution to the panhandling issue. It's a nightmare. I agree homelessness is not a crime in itself. I also agree that reasons vary, from economic to mental illness. Those issues should be resolved within the groups that serve them. Another proposal may not be needed if the city is willing to review those groups and offer help to fine-tune them. Maybe an oversight group of activists, clergy and experts can help.
I don't agree with including nonprofits in this ordinance. I have a solution that will satisfy this particular section: Nonprofits can be allowed to conduct business if they can prove the following: that they are a nonprofit; dates and times of operation, types of items that will be on display, purposes of solicitation; and written permission from the business that allows them to conduct limited operation on their property.
Code enforcement would have to become a seven-day-a-week operation and provide more staff to monitor each area that requires it. The staff would be assigned a "beat," similar to local police, and establish rapport the businesses that operate in the area. Some could be "floaters" to monitor areas where panhandling is habitual. The funding for such an operation could come from raising the sales tax by a penny or two.
Bakersfield's first attempt at providing an ordinance is a positive step, but it needs some work. I don't have an objection to paying a little extra to get this situation under control.
Kimberly Musto of Bakersfield is a human relations specialist.
The issue of panhandling needs to be addressed within the city of Bakersfield. Although I believe this is a societal issue, and not necessarily a government problem, I do believe the proposed ordinance can help to solve this issue. The only way to truly solve panhandling is through community education. There are dozens of nonprofits in this community that serve those who say they are in need. Instead of giving them money, we need to educate them on where to find these services. We cannot legislate our way out of societal issues.
There will always be those who are considered "free riders." We cannot go around arresting all of these people, spending more taxpayer money without solving the issue. Instead of throwing money at a problem, we need to point people in the right direction to proper resources. That being said, the proposed ordinance can help to deter panhandlers and hopefully provide a better business climate, which is something I believe is the role of government. There also needs to be a way for nonprofits who may also be affected by this policy to seek permission or a permit to raise funds.
Jenifer Pitcher is a spokesperson for a local nonprofit watchdog group.
An ordinance against panhandling is a much to do about nothing. The police have enough to do now and won't want to respond unless that person is doing harm to someone, and they would do that without an ordinance. So, just give them a dollar or just say no and go on your way. Panhandlers have been around since biblical times, so it ain't nothing new.
Kenneth Cannon is retired from a career with a telecommunications company.
There is no question that panhandling is a problem in Bakersfield. Some panhandlers truly need help, but some may be seriously dangerous. A nonprofit group could be provided with an inexpensive official permit to carry or display. Individuals or small groups of panhandlers are a different problem. The person being approached for money rarely can identify the legitimacy of the need. That often comes down to an inner sense or feel for the situation.
More important is the need for personal safety based on time, place and available support. The safety issue is where an enforceable ordinance could really help. It would give specific areas where solicitation cannot occur. A person approached in those areas could simply say, "You are not allowed to ask in this area." It would be a kind of semi-safe zone. If the panhandler persisted, it would be taken as a warning sign of potential danger, and security measures could be taken.
Don Daverin of Bakersfield is a retired teacher.
I'm constantly amazed at the lack of common sense among our elected officers. This proposed panhandling ordinance is the latest example. Equating Scouts and the efforts of the Salvation Army with beggars is ridiculous. Don't we already have a loitering law? Why do we waste so much time and energy on this craziness? Come election time, we need to remember our leaders by name.
Bobby Scrivner of Bakersfield is a retired Kern County employee.
No one can argue that panhandling is out of control. A client of mine witnessed a regular (panhandler) on her street corner get into a newer car after a busy day on the street. Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, however, seem to be the goals of the majority of panhandlers. There are so many resources that are available for those truly in need. Once again, because of the actions of a few, legitimate fundraisers will pay the price by being lumped in with the former group. Why this needs to be so, I do not understand. I have yet to be aggressively approached by Boy or Girl Scouts. And, once again, common sense goes out the window in distinguishing the difference.
Jennifer Cecero of Bakersfield operates a family business.
Oh, let's pass an ordinance. Sounds good, but when ordinances are passed, the rules seems to grow. Who are the people that wrote this ordinance? They have decided that Girl and Boy Scouts are panhandlers? They have even included the Salvation Army, which spends its time trying to help -- yep, you guessed it -- panhandlers, who may or may not actually be homeless.
Now, as far as the panhandlers are concerned, yes, they are a blight on our streets. A lawyer probably would say they have their rights to do what they do. Those trying to make a living with a business don't need the harassment of panhandlers in front of their stores. I would love to follow them just to see where they go at night. Are they homeless or just too lazy to work? Just who are these panhandlers? Let's get rid of them but keep the Scouts and the Salvation Army. Actually, we don't need more laws. Let's just educate our citizens to "Not Give Them A Dime." This would be a self-correcting situation.
Betty Stewart of Bakersfield is a retired former school teacher.
Does the Bakersfield Police Department have enough manpower to take such calls as panhandling? Of course not. Our city can't put more officers out on the streets -- or increase their salaries -- and now the officers could take on more? There's a lot of panhandling going on downtown, but we don't know what their reasons are. I've heard a lot of stories from the homeless, mentally ill, drug addicts or whatever their situation is. We don't know their intent.
Marilyn Golleher is a program director for a local nonprofit health care corporation.