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A Pedestrian Safety Proposal Takes Aim At Panhandling In Kansas City

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KCUR 89.3
A proposed pedestrian safety ordinance would deter panhandlers from Kansas City crosswalks and intersections.

A proposed pedestrian safety ordinance would have implications for individuals panhandling at Kansas City intersections. 

Councilperson Teresa Loar introduced the measure Thursday. It outlines new rules to increase pedestrian safety at intersections and crosswalks, reducing the amount of time permitted to cross, and limiting the roadside space permitted for walking.

It's an attempt to reduce the number of panhandlers in the city, complaints about which, Loar says have gone up. Citing numbers from the 311 Call Center, Loar says there were nearly 200 complaints in all of 2017 but that the city nearly reached by the end of June this year. She says there also have been traffic accidents and pedestrians have been hit. 

"They're distracting if they're trying to reach into your window or reach in your car," she says.

Alfredo Palacol works for Hope Faith Ministries, a homeless outreach program in Kansas City. Having come from cities like Los Angeles and New York City, Palacol says he doesn't see panhandling to be a serious issue in Kansas City by comparison.

He says he's concerned that this measure would focus on punishment as a way of deterring panhandling. Though the ordinance doesn't specify penalties, typically the consequences of violating an ordinance would be fines or jail time. 

"I think the data would show that ultimately exacerbates those cycles of poverty and homelessness that cities are trying to fight, create these spiraling effects," he says.

Loar says she shares these concerns. 

"The last thing we need is to put people in jail. That's not what we want to do," she says. "We could fine them. They obviously do have some money, they collect it every day." 

Victoria Stracke of Community LINC, a not-for-profit working to reduce homelessness in Kansas City, says she feels like this ordinance comes at the issues of homelessness and poverty from the wrong direction. 

"I would rather see that we, as a city, choose to identify what the root causes of homelessness are, and work to address those," Stracke says.

Palacol agrees, emphasizing he would like to see alternatives provided for people who panhandle.

"Any sort of law that creates a situation where, someone who's already in crisis or at risk, we end up criminalizing them, putting penalties that will keep them in those cycles, isn't a good thing," he says.

Palacol says he hopes council will take input from organizations like his own and individuals who turn to panhandling to understand how best to manage the issue. 

Loar says the city needs to think of the needs and well-being of both the pedestrian and the driver.

"We can't just leave these folks out on the streets, number one, and we have a responsibility to the citizens of Kansas City to keep our community safe, too, and when the safety of our drivers is jeopardized, we need to think of both," she says.

The measure, which is co-sponsored by six other council members, will go before council again next Wednesday for a public hearing. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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