Sunday, November 2, 2008

Northampton Panhandling Ordinance 285-53- STICK TO THE BRICKS

What are these people really upset about? The document below. Here is the actual ordinance that is proposed. It is not in effect. I have added my thoughts in red. Black again at the bottom. But firstly, let me say that I agree with them that poverty is not a crime. But how does that apply to this ordinance and how is such an extreme implication as to the town's motive in seeking to pass this ordinance going to win any support from those who can make a difference and arguably tweek the proposal to work better for all involved. The town has not launched an attack on panhandlers or street musicians or anyone. Yet those who stand in opposition are screaming and sloganeering as if martial law is being declared and all other options of recourse and discussion have been exhausted. And who of the people that will be affected by this are truly in poverty and asking for money to get out of poverty? And as for the rest of them, why are they asking for money? In contrast, what are the rights of shopkeeps who ask for money from people and provide them with goods and services in exchange. Shopkeeps who collectively enable Main Street to be a busy place where people CAN ask for money for nothing... or for Obama ...or for a high school sports team?

285-53 Soliciting Activities

A. Definitions. For the purpose of this section:

SOLICITING – shall mean any request for money, goods, or services for charitable or personal
use, whether by word, bodily gestures, signs or other requests for the same, unless otherwise
permitted under City Ordinance or Regulation.

All solicitors shall locate at the edge of the sidewalk opposite the building, or on the brick pavers
where available. So, it is absolutely fine to ask for money. You just have to set up on the bricks that separate the sidewalk from the street.

a. Approaching, speaking to or following a person before or after soliciting, if that conduct is
intended or likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm to oneself or to another, or
loss of property or otherwise feel threatened; This seems fair enough. If a person is inclined to give someone money, they'll do it. This doesn't say you can't approach, speak, or follow a person (which actually surprises me). It just means to use common courtesy and not be aggressive or overbearing. If this is a violation of free speech then it is only so to the letter of the law, not the practical application of the law. This is a compromise between city and solicitor that addresses both sides needs.
b. Intentionally touching or physical contact with another person without that person's consent
in the course of soliciting; Duh.
c. Intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of a pedestrian or vehicle
by any means, including unreasonably causing a pedestrian or vehicle operator to take evasive
action to avoid physical contact; The people who gather in groups often as large as 12 people who sometimes sprawl out with their dogs into the sidewalk, narrowing or creating obstacles for people who are walking are the ones most affected by this one. In fact, these assemblies are causing the most problems for the retailers I know, not the panhandlers. Is it really worth an argument? It's a matter of mutual respect. I've watched people have to walk out in front of the line of parked cars to get around the piles of people, taking them around and away from the entrance to a business that depends on foot traffic to survive. The protest signs that read "community need over corporate greed" betray an incredibly uninformed, ignorant, and hostile view of the town's main street and its retailers. We're talking about Pinch and Bill & Bob's here, not Enron. Northampton businesses are not there because they are greedy. These people have chosen to operate a store as a way to make a living. Just as panhandlers have chosen (or arguably have had to resort to) their method. And free speech or not, if someone younger than, say 30, is asking for money, they are most likely looking for drug money. I judge these people harshly and it comes from a place of having been there and never resorting to begging. I earned the money, even then. Ironic that i maintained that much self-respect while simultaneously self-destructing. But i digress. Look kids, you have to rise to grace before you fall from it. You can't have had time.

d. Using violent or threatening or intimidating or abusive language or gestures toward a person
solicited. Intimidation means to engage in conduct, which would make a reasonable person
fearful or feel compelled. DUH.

B. It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit:

1. Aggressively, as described above.

2. On private property if the owner, tenant, or lawful occupant has asked the person not to
solicit on the property, or has posted a sign clearly indicating that solicitations are not
welcome on the property. DUH

3. On public streets or sidewalks within six (6) feet of an entrance to a building; Stick to the bricks. It's just as exposed to passerby so why would anyone have a problem with this? Stick to the bricks.

4. On public streets or sidewalks within fifteen (15) feet of;
o a Bank, Credit Union or Financial Institution; I can see why this might be seen as bordering on free speech infringement but i don't think it's unreasonable. It should probably just have the same 6 foot restriction.
o the entrance to or exit from any public toilet facility; What's this about?
o an automatic teller machine (ATM), provided that when an automated teller
machine is located within an automated teller machine facility, such distance
shall be measured from the entrance or exit of the automated teller machine
facility; Again, borderline, but people who have just removed cash will surely feel that there is a danger, no matter how slight, of being assaulted or robbed. People may choose not to use the ATM if they see the possible danger. This is about creating a safe atmosphere for people using downtown, such that they will feel inclined and free to frequent it again.
o any bus stop or taxi stand; Not sure about this one.
o any parking pay box; People have their money out and it's reasonable to be unmolested when paying for a parking space.
o a motor vehicle that is in traffic on a public street; DUH
o a public bench; This is where visitors to downtown sit down to take a break or wait for someone. They're chilling out, not stationary targets. And they can only sit assuming the bench hasn't been commandeered by one of the aforementioned large groups who will not move on for hours at a time to give someone else a chance to sit down.
o any railroad or street overpass Hmmm. Not sure what this is about. Sure, I’m sick to death of the same guy bugging me day in and day out on my way to work and back, which takes me under the bridge, but I think he has a right to be there.
o any outdoor patio, or properly permitted tables and chairs where food or drinks
are served. Approaching people eating at an outdoor cafe is like going into a restaurant and panhandling at tables there. Sitting nearby is borderline but i imagine the goal is for patrons of the restaurant to eat and chat without "street business" going on right next to them. Not many of the restaurants have these outdoor arrangements anyway.

5. In a parking lot or garage owned or operated by the City of Northampton, including
entryways or exits and pay stations connected therewith; Money out and being transacted. Refer to ATM above.

6. Solicitors are prohibited from sitting (sitting allowed, if subject has a bonafide disability)
or setting up any crates or other similar devices on city property unless otherwise
permitted under City Ordinance or Regulation. This is borderline but it does seem like people set up virtual campsite on the sidewalk sometimes and it dams things up a bit.

7. Nighttime soliciting. It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit after sunset and before
sunrise. I don't see much of this anyway. Except under the bridge.

8. False or misleading solicitation. It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly make
any false or misleading representation in the course of soliciting a donation. False or
misleading representations could reasonably cause a person to act differently from the
way he or she otherwise would act and include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. Stating that the solicitor is from out of town and stranded when such is not true;
b. Stating or suggesting falsely that the solicitor is either a present or former member of
the armed service indicated;
c. Wearing or displaying an indication of physical disability, when the solicitor does not
suffer the disability indicated;
d. Use of any makeup or device to simulate a deformity;
e. Stating that the solicitor is homeless, when he or she is not;
f. Soliciting for a charitable organization when such is not true; or
g. Stating that the funds are needed for a specific purpose and then spending the funds
received for a different purpose. This allows that panhandlers most definitely have a right to panhandle. But they can't scam anyone in the process. These bogus "school camp" collectors or the very young kids running up to everyone with sugar tubes is baloney. It's an insult to those who are honest.

C. It shall be unlawful for any person to sell goods or services without proper permits. DUH.

D. Nothing in this ordinance shall limit the discretion of the police, court personnel, or judges from referring persons suspected of or cited for a violation of this section to treatment programs or facilities that provide an alternative to fines or prosecution, if the alleged or convicted violator consents.

40-5 (B) Penalties for violations of this section shall be as follows:

First Offense: $50.00
Second Offense: $100.00
Third Offense: $200.00
Fourth or Subsequent Offense: $300.00

The protesters seem to think that this is an attempt to start chipping away at the freedoms and rights of the local street culture, leading to all sorts of unthinkable future infringements and suppression. They view it as the “man” against the “people.” They see the ordinance as being only in the interest of the town’s working people and their patrons who they seem to view as elite, insensitive and “corporate.” As I said above, it’s a very naive and disproportionate response to a reasonable attempt by the town to reach a balance. These policies do not make it impossible or even very hard to panhandle in town or even hang out in big piles. If people were willing to engage in common courtesy and respect of personal space, then an ordinance wouldn’t be on the table. A majority of the people that keep downtown running see a need for this. Their voice is important and seems unified around a real problem. No one is motivated to do this out of a desire to oppress anyone, though they are accused of this by the more reactionary opponents of the ordinance. They are portraying the very people who work to assure there even is a downtown to panhandle or hang out or pile up in as villains. Where is the middle-ground here? How many opponents have read the ordinance I wonder? By the way, these rules would also apply to Obama campaigners, high school sports teams, and anyone else seeking contributions to a cause or a habit. I’m pretty much a liberal but I’m embarrassed for the protesters in a way, or maybe disappointed. They have every right to protest and say whatever they want, but I think they’re missing the point and objecting to things that aren't really there. It's really no different than everyone jumping to conclusions about Bill Ayers. Finally, I have been out of work and had hard times as well as thriving for periods, and I never thought to ask someone who is actually striving to make money for themselves to survive for a piece of his/her compensation.

I might ask for a loan from a friend and I would pay it back, even if years later. But I work my ass off all week and manage to pay my bills, sometimes just barely, and I'm not going to make a contribution to someone who seems to see me as a "have" and them as a "have not." It's not a popular opinion in Northampton but I'm not going to enable someone who remains a victim day after day, year after year. Maybe there’s some genuine disability here and some actual victims of circumstance. Northampton also has a lot of hands reaching out and resources available for them. But if you have chosen to be lumpen as your lot in life, I have no interest in funding you. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “get a haircut and a job, you hippy” types. I do give money to people on the streets. There are some clearly disabled people, some very old, who barely get around and I hand them a five or a ten on occasion. Try it. It feels good. Those are the needy. Patty, one of the frail aged women in town (not dollar lady) goes through the garbage for cans systematically, up and down the street in broad daylight. She has maintained her dignity though what she does is seen as undignified. She has black nubs for teeth and takes a half hour to shuffle two blocks.

I admit that my thinking may not be entirely selfless and fair. I do understand the ideas that the protesters are trying to get across. I confess that I'm annoyed and that my enjoyment of the town where I work and live is consistently hampered by human roadblocks and people. I am sick to death of being asked for money every damn day many times a day. And why can't Ox learn to play that guitar a little less like plucking an ostrich? And while we're at it: Jim Croce ban! No more Bad Bad Leroy Brown. Kettle Drum guy. I work right above where you play and after a few hours, I would rather listen to a car alarm. Okay, I'm, joking about all that, but you know the blind man who rocks back and forth and plays some mean harmonica? Guess what several of the other friendly street people did not so long ago? They all went back to his house under the guise of friendship and robbed him...blind. True story. I hear he's blind due to the bright lights in the incubators they used to use for premature babies until they discovered the babies would go blind within the first ten years of their life. Now that guy gets my donations. And he sits on the bricks already.


pinchgallery said...

You rock.

Liz T.D. said...

Agreed! Jim, I want to print this out and keep a copy at the store. Well said.

Anonymous said...

I too think it's a very fair-minded petition. It is not an all-out ban on the behavior, nor is it confining it to "out of sight, out of mind" places. It's saying "let the sidewalk remain a place for people to walk through without running a gauntlet".

Hannah said...

so does this include people from so called legit organizations? like school clubs asking for money and 'do you have a minute for obama?' people, because i find them JUST as irritating and intrusive on the sidewalk. I will illustrate: a table for Obama set up in a very busy part of the sidewalk causes the blocking of traffic right in front of the gallery EVERY SINGLE DAY they set up. People walk by and stop, in the middle of the sidewalk to look or talk, or hug their friends while everyone behind them CANNOT get by the tiny little scrap of sidewalk that is left for everyone else trying to go about their business. That table has caused more sidewalk pileups than pack of hippies and their dogs in front of Haymarket.
I am all for people collecting for good causes, but they should be held to the same rules, keep them away from the banks and places of business, keep them away from blocking the sidewalks.
I mean granted, the table is not going to be out there anymore after tomorrow, but its the idea behind it. How come they are allowed to block traffic to dispense political fliers AND ASK FOR MONEY and some guy with a guitar with the case open gets in trouble?

Louie said...

I don't like when people talk loudly on their cell phones while walking down the street, can we pass an ordinance against that?
I also don't like when people listen to their ipods loudly and I have to hear it, can we pass an ordinance against that?
I also don't like it when people just hang out around places, it makes me uncomfortable, can we pass an ordinance against that?
I also don't like when it's raining and a car drives by and a puddle of water splashes me, can we pass an ordinance against that?

My point is that, sure, it's annoying when the random "bad apple" follows you to your car and says "Gimme a dollar", but I like to believe that if a cop was around while I was being harassed by a panhandler, or anyone, they would step in, they wouldn't need some ordinance to say "Stop that guy from harassing that guy".

It's absurd and an awful lot of little annoyances to get worked up enough over to pass an ordinance, this is the valley where everyone demands that everyone respect their own personal demands and wishes, at the expense of everyone else, and the world doesn't run that way, living in a capitalist society, you are going to have poor people, some of them, perhaps mentally ill vagrants with no place to go, might get kind of "annoying", but what you do is, you examine what happens to create people like this and you work to change it.
You don't pass ordinances against something 'cause it bugs you and why don't they just beg someplace else?
Tons of things are annoying and frustrating in everyday life, you can't just pass ordinances against whatever is bothering the gentry this week.
First they came for the poor and I didn't stand up because I thought it was good that they moved away from our centers of commerce and stood by the road.
Who will they come for next?

David Kutcher said...

They're being asked to stick to the part of the sidewalk that has bricks so as not to interfere with people trying to WALK on the SIDEWALK or enter a store... the people who are required to keep that sidewalk free of debris, snow, ice, etc.

They are also being asked to refrain from asking for money close to money-dispensing entities so that someone who is taking money out of an ATM machine does not feel harassed by someone right behind them.

It is in no way shoving them into the alleyway, only putting all panhandling activities a few feet away from businesses and establishing a right-of-way for pedestrians.

Jim Neill said...


Like I said, this is not a ban on panhandling. It is an attempt to address the needs of both the merchants and the "panhandlers."

The things you describe are isolated and one off kinds of situations.The examples you equate are sarcastic and not analagous. The issue is a consistent daily gauntlet of people asking for change and cigarettes etc. The ordinance asks for a compromise. I also think that if the protesters made suggestions through traditioal channels as opposed to shouting demands and reducing the argument to one-sided sloganeering,some of the standards could be tweaked. Sure, I get your point and at a glance I would agree with you but I am downtown every day of my life and see the degree of interaction that people are subjected to. It's not all bad apples either. Just today I saw a guy get up in the face of a woman trying to buy a parking slip. She said no to his request for money. He asked for a cigarette. She said "no please leave me alone." He said "whatcha got for me then?" She gave up on getting the ticket and walked up the street to the next one.

And as for: "First they came for the poor and I didn't stand up because I thought it was good that they moved away from our centers of commerce and stood by the road.
Who will they come for next?"

The ordinance does NOT move them away from our centers of commerce. This is a fallacy. And this is not martial law caliber stuff Lou. It's an attempt to solve a problem that has been unsolvable through simple requests for a compromise.

Jim Neill said...

First they came for the people who owned dogs that pooped on the sidewalk, then they came for the people that pooped on the sidewalk themselves... then they came for the people that pooped. (Thanks Dave!)

Jon McGee said...

Great commentary. Pretty spot on, in terms of what we've been dealing with on the street in front of Thornes.


Anonymous said...

I agree with louie, as to the comments about the panhandling ordinance, I am disappointed in the protesters. They have spent a lot of time taking cheap shots at the shelters and other non-profits while having no real will or resources to come up with an initiative of their own. It bothers me that people lionize them for taking the podium at the city council meeting

Yeah I think the ordinance is a waste of time, an infringement upon liberties and is a slippery slope to any number of claims that a policeman or a business owner could make to a homeless person who would likely be unfamilar with the details of the ordinance.

we live in an unfair world, just because we have read and understand the ordinance doesn't mean the downtrodden have as well. If a policeman say wants to try and remove a person from a place downtown because they got a call from a store owner who simply doesn't want a homeless person near the store, whats to stop a cop from taking an initiative that is not included in the ordinance, or citing something not included. A person with nothing be told by someone in a position of authority what to do is likely not going to argue or question

Seriously, I would hope elected officials and paid staff of our local government were spending their time dealing with pressing city issues like the budget, or the schools or waste management, land use, local government reform, public outreach, building commonwealth or whatever rather than crafting this less than admirable ordinance

David Kutcher said...

I'm curious to know what liberties are being infringed upon.

Requiring that there is a open thoroughfare is hardly infringing on anyone, except those that park themselves in the middle of the sidewalk. Saying that you can't panhandle within a not-unrealistic radius of a bank or ATM hardly throws them out of town, but it protects the people who don't want to be on the receiving end of endless solicitations for money.

As to the police officers, it's their job to know the law/ordinances and enforce them properly. If they don't, go after the policemen. Hardly a slippery-slope. This does not run the homeless or the panhandlers out of town, it moves them ALL onto the brick part of the sidewalk. And there should be NO exceptions to this.

Rick said...

By the time you rule out everywhere within 15 feet of their extensive list (doorways, ATMS, parking lots or parking machines, benches, etc), there isn't much left.
As for "stick to the brick": whatever you think of panhandling, many of these people are ill, mentally or physically or both. Now we say: stay at the outer edge of the sidewalk, but don't set anything up either. Nothing to lean against, sit on, or to give even partial shelter.
I used to live in a wealthy area without a panhandling problem; almost without a homeless problem. The magic secret? All homeless people, or people disturbing in any way, were "moved along" - either they left the area, or were thrown in jail. One of the things I love about Northampton is that diversity is tolerated, even when it's uncomfortable, and that the community is compassionate. I can understand that business owners are concerned about their viability if shoppers or diners are deterred by discomfort with panhandlers, so of course if some customers with money to spend complain, they're going to try to eliminate the issue. Nonetheless, I think this is a mean-spirited "solution" unworthy of our community.

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