The Legality of Homelessness

OPB | March 25, 2008 midnight | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:40 p.m.

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Do laws against panhandling and sidewalk obstruction help solve the problem of homelessness?

LISTEN TO “The Legality of Homelessness” (24MB MP3)

My mom likes to tell this story about a man who asked her for 15 cents every day on her way to work. “I couldn’t just walk by and ignore him,” she explains, “but I couldn’t exactly give him 15 cents every time I walked by him either.” So she decided early on to look him in the eyes and strike up a conversation with the man and every day after that instead of asking her for 15 cents, he said, “Hi, how are you today?” and they chatted. But interactions between panhandlers and passersby don’t always go smoothly. Many people have filed complaints with their local governments about overly-aggressive solicitation tactics, and this is one reason some communities in Oregon have instituted laws to curb this sort of activity.The City of Roseburg passed a law last year making it illegal for motorists to give money away while sitting in traffic. Violators face a $75 fine. The ACLU is challenging a new law in Medford that places penalties on the panhandlers themselves, fining them up to $3000. Soliciting spare change is still legal in Portland, but sitting and lying on the sidewalk between 7:00am and 9:00pm could get you in trouble.

Do laws against panhandling and sidewalk obstruction help solve the problem of homelessness? Are they fairly enforced? What laws should govern homeless people?

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Photo credit: Denislav Stoychev / Flickr / Creative Commons.

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