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Panhandling In Traffic Outlawed In Sacramento County

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Stephen Walker says he has been homeless "off-and-on" for 12 years. He says he is opposed to the new rules but will do his best to follow them.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento County has a new  ordinance that makes aggressive panhandling and begging at most street corners illegal.

The new law makes it illegal for panhandlers to ask for food or money if they are within 35 feet of an ATM, 50 feet of a mass transit stop or 200 feet from any intersection with a stop light or stop sign.

According to Sheriff's Sergeant Lisa Bowman, panhandling while on a traffic median is now also against the law.

"The purpose of this is to make sure the citizens and people of the county are safe and that includes the solicitors. They're creating a hazard not just for traffic but for themselves," says Bowman.

On a median at Howe and Arden, Stephen Walker holds a cardboard sign that says "Homeless Vet." He promises to do his best to follow the new rules, but calls them "ridiculous."

"I got to survive the best way I know how. At least I'm not on drugs, I'm not using the money that I do get wrongly. I'm buying food.  So, as long as I'm buying food, in my lord and savior's eyes, I think I'm right as a homeless veteran," Walker says.

According to Sergeant Bowman, the ordinance also prohibits panhandlers from intimidating someone into donating.

"We get complaints quite frequently from the public in regards to solicitations -what's legal, what's not legal when they feel backed into a corner and feel coerced to give a donation just to continue on their path. It's a quality-of-life issue," Bowman says.

Paula Lomazzi with the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee says people shouldn't be harassed into giving money, but she doesn't agree with the restrictions on where people may panhandle.

"I kind of envision that they're saying 'Don't be anywhere near where you could possibly make money,'" Lomazzi says.

The county settled a lawsuit brought against the ordinance by changing it to include fund raising like the Sac Metro Fire Department's "Fill the Boot" for burn victims campaign.

Sheriff's deputies will give panhandlers an informational flier and a warning for the next month. After that, panhandlers found guilty of violating the ordinance face a fine or jail time.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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