Debate Continues After OKC City Council Passes Ordinance Against Panhandling

Tuesday, December 8th 2015, 7:32 pm
By: Grant Hermes

After years of trying to pass the ordinance and several hours of heated debate and public comment on Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council approved an ordinance that would ban panhandling from city medians.

The council voted 7-2. Members Dr. Ed Shadid and Pete White voted against the measure.

Despite the lopsided vote, supporters at the meeting were outnumbered nearly four to one. Many opponents called it "out of sight, out of mind" politics by those that would “rather not look at the homeless.”

There was talk of tabling the vote until June 14, to allow non-profit organizations time to study homelessness and poverty, but that was voted down despite attempts to work across differing opinions. The arguments were split between serving those in need and serving the public by keeping intersections safe.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty showed the council slides of intersections with broken medians where vehicles had damaged medians. He also showed the number of fatal or injury crashes topped 12,000 in 2014. Fifteen people were killed while standing or sitting on medians.

When asked if similar ordinances in other major cities reduced the number of panhandlers, Citty said they did not, but made clear his concern was safety.

“[It’s] absolutely not public safety ordinance, the fact of the matter is individuals will be less safe because of this ordinance,” said Whitley O’Connor, who helped found the Curbside Chronicle.

The Curbside Chronicle is a magazine that is sold by the homeless or jobless on street corners and medians. O’Connor said the new law will most likely kill the business.

Under the ordinance, all panhandling or fundraising is banned from any median less than 30 feet wide. Most in Oklahoma City are under that width. Panhandlers would also be required to be 200 feet from an intersection and anyone caught by authorities would be fined up to $100. But critics say the law will be difficult to enforce.

“I don't think the city right now, if you asked the city of Oklahoma City what it takes to in compliance with the measure, I don't think they can tell you,” Ryan Keisel, director of ACLU-Oklahoma said after the vote.

Something Citty disagreed with.

“I find that many of the people that were soliciting in the medians, which they won't be able to get now, and in many cases you'll have a panhandler or somebody like that, they'll know it's against the law,” City said.