South Sound cities take steps to restrict panhandling

A man sits next to a sign offering to work for food in Gig Harbor in August.
A man sits next to a sign offering to work for food in Gig Harbor in August. Olympian file photo

Two South Sound cities have taken steps to curb panhandling.

Nisqually Valley News reports that the Yelm City Council has passed an ordinance prohibiting people from asking for money at public transportation stops or within 15 feet of ATMs, self-service fuel pumps or people getting in and out of their vehicles.

“We are not successfully going to be able to restrict them from panhandling in a public place,” Yelm Police Chief Todd Stancil said. “Anytime we try to restrict a public location, it will be challenged and if we get challenged it is going to lose.”

Stancil said Yelm does not currently have an issue with aggressive panhandling but “that could become an issue down the road,” according to the Nisqually Valley News.

Meanwhile, the Gig Harbor City Council passed an ordinance this week aimed at preventing crashes caused by drivers stopping to give to panhandlers, according to The Peninsula Gateway. The ordinance prohibits drivers from interacting with pedestrians or exchanging money or goods on certain roads.

“This is not truly about panhandlers and more about public safety,” said Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey.

Last year, the Washington Supreme Court invalidated two sections of a Lakewood ordinance that banned panhandling on public transportation, near ATMs, at ramps leading to and from freeways, and at certain intersections. The court found the last two restrictions were overly broad, according to an Associated Press report.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington reports cities across the country have enacted similar laws in recent years. Citywide bans on begging in public increased by 25 percent from 2011 to 2014, while bans on begging in particular public places increased by 20 percent.

Elsewhere, The Seattle Times reports Arlington, Marysville and Spokane have all launched programs to persuade residents not to give to panhandlers.

Olympia currently has an ordinance banning aggressive panhandling (defined as “conduct that would likely intimidate a reasonable person”) and panhandling within 25 feet of ATMs or parking pay stations.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman