Thursday, August 04, 2011

No more panhandling at outside cafes

Good news for outdoor diners:
City Council on Wednesday passed a ban on panhandling within 8 feet of a sidewalk cafe. Violation of the buffer zone is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $500.

"You're sitting at an outdoor table at a restaurant. Someone comes and looms over you and starts asking for money. That's an intimidating situation, and you don't have really an opportunity to escape," Mayor Annise Parker said.

City ordinance already prohibited panhandling within 8 feet of ATMs, parking meters, bus shelters and gas pumps. The council extended the rule to outdoor dining establishments.

I certainly don't have a problem with this new ordinance. Jokes about anybody actually eating outside in this weather aside, people should be allowed enjoy their meal or sip their beer in peace without being approached by a foul-smelling bum looking for money to score his next crack rock.

Whether the law will have any real effect is a different matter. Homeless people, generally speaking, aren't aware of or simply don't care about laws that restrict them from panhandling. I say this as somebody who has been accosted by homeless people seeking change while filling up my tank on multiple occasions, even though panhandling within eight feet of gas pumps is, as the article says, illegal. And the police likely won't put a lot of emphasis on enforcing this ordinance when there are so many higher-profile crimes that require their attention.

Enforcement issues aside, the best way to deal with panhandlers is simply not to give them any money. When somebody gives money to a homeless person, even if only to make that person go away, they're only reinforcing this negative behavior. And aggressive and/or threatening panhandling should always be immediately reported to the police, as this represents a public safety hazard that law enforcement is likely to take seriously.

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