City Councilman Steve Schewel has added his voice to those calling on his colleagues to revisit the city’s new solicitation ordinance.
“We have a genuine problem,” Schewel said.
The ordinance, adopted by unanimous vote in December, put new restrictions on roadside solicitors – including panhandlers who work busy intersections – that, critics say, “criminalizes poverty.”
City Manager Tom Bonfield has said the ordinance is meant as a safety measure, to cut down on distractions for motorists and prevent persons from stepping into busy streets.
Opponents also claim the ordinance is clogging courtrooms with defendants cited for violations who cannot pay any fines imposed.
“Putting homeless people through the court system and into jail is not serving us well,” Schewel said.
Schewel suggested the city consider a version of the “outreach court” used in Orange County. The outreach court assigns community service to homeless people with misdemeanor convictions, in lieu of fines or jail time, and directs them into treatment for disabilities and addiction if called for.
Last week, the city-county Homeless Services Advisory Committee agreed to review the ordinance and recommend amendments to the city.
Among other provisions, the ordinance bans soliciting on highway medians. It also eliminated a previous requirement that solicitors register and buy permits, and requires them to wear safety vests.
Opponents have made repeated appearances at council work sessions and barraged council members with emails asking that the ordinance be amended or repealed.