Although there hasn’t been a single pedestrian-roadway fatality or injury related to panhandling in recent years, the Spokane City Council voted 6-1 Monday night to approve an ordinance banning panhandling in downtown Spokane, citing it as a safety issue.
The ordinance prohibits panhandlers from collecting money from passersby near I-90 arterials and on-ramps, unless done in an area where drivers can legally pull over and park. The boundaries of the new ordinance will push panhandlers away from downtown.
As of midnight a map of the geographical boundaries was not posted to the Spokane City Council website.
The ordinance also impacts Spokane's Guilds' School and the Fill the Boot campaign. The Guild School’s biggest fundraiser is its annual penny drive, where volunteers ask drivers for donations. Fill the Boot is a similar campaign for Muscular Dystrophy.
The Guild School has had the penny drive for 16 years and has never had an incident, said president Rick Dullanty.
“How can we allow some people to do it and not allow others to do it?,” asked City Councilman Mike Allen, who introduced the ordinance.
Eighty-five people signed up to speak at the council meeting, most supporters of the Guild School opposing the ordinance.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said by creating geographic boundaries the city was able to compromise and continue to treat all classes of people equally.
Ted Means, a 27-year resident of Spokane, however, said the ordinance was unfair and uncompassionate, noting it caters to Spokane’s upper class, “who don’t want to see anything that displeases them.”
“This isn’t about public safety. This is about putting a new face on Spokane,” he said. “The problem isn’t about people stepping into the street asking for money. The problem is people not stepping up to care of people. It blows my mind."
Councilman Jon Snyder said he also didn’t believe the ordinance was truly a safety issue.
“We’re talking about panhandling here,” he said.
Snyder said in the last five years there have been more bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in Spokane than structure fire fatalities, but said none of those have involved panhandlers.
Spokane police will spend the next 30 days informing panhandlers of the new ordinance and helping them find local homeless resources. The council urged The Guild School and Fill the Boot to seek local businesses willing to donate its parking lot for future fundraisers.