Businesses for, panhandlers against new ordinance

SPOKANE, Wash. - Later this month the Spokane city council will consider a long-awaited panhandling ordinance which would make it illegal to solicit donations along arterial streets and freeway off-ramps.

The proposed vehicular interference ordinance is designed to keep people stepping out into the roadway or interfering with traffic, but it will also likely dry up the flow of fast and easy cash for transients.

This summer, Spokane's panhandling problem reached an all time high with beggars migrating far from their traditional spots at freeway off-ramps. Christy McHatton of Moxie Salon and Spa watches the same people work the same corner every day.

"We've had urination in our parking lot, public nudity. We've had some that were on drugs come in and disturb our clients," she said.

panhandler ordinance

The salon staff has tried new signage to keep the panhandlers away but still have to pick up their empty beer cans in the parking lot.

That's why city councilman Mike Allen has spent the past four months drafting a new panhandling ordinance. He thinks the curbside begging is bad for current and future business.

"They go where the traffic is and where they have the highest opportunity to make revenue and that happens to be our gateways as they come off the interstate," Allen said.

The ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to reach beyond the curb with their hand or even a stick to solicit anything. Violators face a misdemeanor ticket.

"There's an invisible plane that comes up from the sidewalk and if they engage and come over that plane that is an infraction," Allen said.

Allen Bercier is a regular at 3rd and Division. He said the money he makes there supplements his disability income and is obviously opposed to new restrictions on panhandling.

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

Bercier thinks a lot of Spokane's generous donations go toward feeding bad habits, something that the staffers at Moxie agree on.

"I'm not going to give them my money when I see them out there daily and they walk by drunk, I'm not giving them my money," McHatton said.

This ordinance would also outlaw fund raisers, like the fire department's "Fill The Boot" campaign for Muscular Dystrophy, and so by design the ordinance would not take effect until after September 15.