Memphis City Council passes panhandling ordinance - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis City Council passes panhandling ordinance

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)

Memphis City Council pass an ordinance declaring rush hour and busy intersections off limits to panhandlers.

The council passed the panhandling ordinance Tuesday on a 9-3 vote. It extends the ban on panhandling from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m., and also keeps panhandlers at least 25 feet from intersections and other high-traffic areas.

Supporters said it make areas like intersections with traffic signals and bridges safer for drivers and panhandlers. Opponents, on the other hand, said it criminalizes homelessness and poverty. It also does not address the underlying issues that contribute to homelessness, according to opponents.

“Housing…and I began to think that was an issue that needs to be tackled more so than saying they need to stay out of intersections,” Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said.

“Public safety issue. I think our streets are safer. Our intersections are going to be safer, not only for all of our citizens, but panhandlers also,” Councilman Phillip Spinosa Jr. said.

But, those who ask for money had differing opinions on what they thought of the new ordinance.

"I'm a panhandler," Carl Webb said. "I've got to do what I've got to do to survive."

Webb said he needs to panhandle and is angered by the new ordinance that was passed. 

Those who have been approached by panhandlers said they agree with the primary reason behind the ordinance.

"You wonder if they couldn't be doing something productive to earn income," Kenneth Farrell said. "I guess in the context of public safety, it's a good thing."

So where does that leave groups who hold their fundraisers at busy intersections to raise money for various causes? The ordinance does not directly address that issue. 

Councilman Philip Spinosa Jr, who sponsored the ordinance, said if you or your group will be planning to raise money with an event like that, he recommends to contact the police department first so the event can go safely. 

Despite the new ordinance, Webb and other panhandlers said it will not change how they do business despite perhaps facing 30 days in jail.

"Wouldn't hurt me to go to jail and lay down a little bit," Webb said.

The ordinance also fines panhandlers $50 if they're found in violation of the new rules. It’s a fine Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings admitted panhandlers often don’t pay.

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