Individuals seeking financial support through public means may not be able to do so freely anymore in Oklahoma City. A new proposal seeks to make panhandling, the practice of standing in public places and asking for donations, a misdemeanor for which individuals could be fined up to 500 dollars and labeled as “aggressive beggars.”
The same law already applies in Tulsa, except with a lower fine of $200; both cities’ laws allow for jailing of multiple offenders.
Perhaps the most interesting note about this proposed law is that it is intended to be a one-size-fits-all ban that would limit all activities on road medians.
Even if public spaces such as parks or legal buildings are technically built on medians, anyone visiting would be doing so in violation of city ordinance. If this regulation is passed, crossing the street would be the only allowable reason for a person to be on the median.
The American Civil Liberties Union believes the ordinance would be unconstitutional, as it would impose limits on public property and individuals’ right to assemble, along with the freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment.
Additionally, the Eighth Amendment could be considered to have been violated in this situation; “cruel and unusual punishment” includes preventing certain populations from participating in public proceedings.
The councilwoman responsible for drafting the proposal, Meg Salyer, did so in hopes of reducing the “explosive” growth of menacing activities such as panhandling and loitering. But by creating such a non-specific law, she is essentially not targeting potentially intimidating or dangerous behaviors or individuals at all.
This ban would even apply to charitable organizations attempting to collect money for fundraisers, like firefighters’ annual “Fill The Boot” campaign in support of muscular dystrophy. Making an exception for groups that could afford to buy permits and liability insurance could be seen as a form of discrimination.
Also, homeless individuals trying to make ends meet would be prevented from making use of some helpful resources that are currently available to them at low risk. For instance, a publication called The Curbside Chronicle based in Oklahoma City relies on homeless and at-risk individuals to distribute their magazines from medians.
The publishing company sells the copies to interested persons, who become “vendors,” at a discounted price of 75 cents each after providing them with an initial supply of 15 magazines. The vendors then market The Curbside Chronicle by standing on medians and selling them for two dollars each.
Pocketing the profit allows them to buy more magazines to sell and make money for rent, food and other expenses.
This business would likely disintegrate if this new protocol were to come into effect.
Similar business ventures would also be limited. For example, in Kansas City, there is a group of tuxedoed men that sells pies from medians near a popular barbecue restaurant. They’d be breaking the law if this ban were in effect in KC.
Fortunately, the Obama administration has taken note of efforts similar to the one in OKC that are occurring across the nation and has adjusted distribution of federal grant monies accordingly.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will no longer provide funds to assist cities in combatting homelessness through the Continuums of Care program unless they are able to provide documentation of how they are already going about reducing the criminalization of homelessness.
This regulation has virtually no positive aspects, as the risk of standing on medians is already minimal. The financial impact of criminalizing homelessness is a burden on all taxpayers when city resources have to be used to enforce the regulation and jail offenders.
All in all, banning all activities in medians with the intent to target panhandlers not only harms the homeless population that is making efforts to provide for itself, but also creates financial barriers to the general public.