A Kansas City council committee voted today to send a proposal that would ban panhandling in intersections to the full city council but with the recommendation that it does not pass.
While not mentioning panhandling explicitly, the proposed ordinance would attempt to increase pedestrian safety at intersections and crosswalks by limiting how long a person can be in an intersection. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed it with a 3-2 vote.
Councilmember Jolie Justus raised concerns about the constitutionality of the ordinance since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled cities cannot ban panhandling.
“Neighborhoods and public safety understandably are looking for a solution for what has become a significant problem in our community,” she said. “The problem that we have is just because you have an ordinance that says it is not about panhandling, that says it is about pedestrian safety, does not pass constitutional muster. ”
Councilman Quinton Lucas further questioned whether the ordinance was truly about protecting pedestrian safety.
“I get the pedestrian concern,” he said. “I’m not sure that this is something that’s just about the safety of pedestrians.”
The committee also debated the true intentions and consequences of the ordinance.
“I think that as we look through this ordinance and talk through it, it is very clear that there is an intent but also a lot of non-intended consequences that exist in this ordinance that we have here,” said Councilman Jermaine Reed.
Panhandling has become a growing concern of Kansas City residents. Police say complaints to 311 on panhandling has rapidly increased in the past year.
Resident Shirley Rice told the committee that she is concerned with the littering caused by panhandlers and their aggressiveness toward homeowners.
“The people that panhandle there, they also come onto our properties of the homeowners in the neighborhood on the Kansas City and Independence and even into the Raytown area, it all converges there,” she said. “They are very aggressive.”
James Coy suggested the council should look into how other cities are dealing with panhandling. According to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the number of cities banning panhandling increased by 25 percent between 2011 and 2014.
“The law of nature is if you cut off the food supply, the parasite goes away,” Coy said. “And they’ve got to go somewhere else for a food source.”
Hyde Park resident Austin Strassle, who works with homeless people and is a candidate for city council, said the ordinance would exacerbate the issues homeless people already face. He said that if a homeless person was fined or ticketed for panhandling, they would likely be unable to pay for it.
“I think that this ordinance that we’re hearing today is not going to solve the issue of panhandling and instead is going to criminalize homelessness and further criminalize poverty,” he said.
Pendleton Heights resident Jeremy Rusek said he does not support the ordinance and that more restrictions for pedestrians will not help pedestrian safety.
“I can’t help but think that this is perhaps an attempt to use a loophole on our city’s policies, to put a sheen over the problem of poverty in our community,” he said.
The city council will vote on the panhandling ordinance next Thursday.
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @celisa_mia.