Some called it penalizing the poor for being broke – while others called it necessary to keep Lincoln City looking like a tourist town rather than a homeless zone.
The first debate among Lincoln City City Councilors Monday evening was whether the city should continue to ban “overnight camping” on city property which includes parks. A number of homeless persons practically begged the council to lift the ban so that those who have no place to park at night, except on public property, can sleep in their vehicles without getting big tickets from the police.
But several business people said Lincoln City is a resort community not a warehouse for people with no permanent residence. And that the town’s image is at stake.
In arguing for keeping the overnight ban on vehicle-sleeping City Attorney Richard Appicello said there are many areas around Lincoln City, beyond the city limits, that are suitable for parking to catch some sleep. But he added there is state law that allows churches to volunteer three parking spots per night EACH to the motorized homeless. However, if churches decide to participate in such a program, they must have available bathrooms and trash service must be provided to the site. Count up the number of churches in Lincoln City and you can probably accommodate quite a few mobile homeless.
The council said it’s something worth looking in to. But they held firm on the no overnight sleeping in city parks, on the street or in public parking lots. They said although there are bathrooms at some sites, they keep them locked up at night to prevent vandalism. They’ll talk more about all this again in a few weeks. Further public comment in WRITTEN form can be given to the city clerk through Noon, August 3rd. A final council decision could come August 8th.
On another front dealing with homelessness, the council was asked to prevent the poor and/or homeless from panhandling from the sidewalk or by standing just off the curb in the right travel lane along Highway 101, or on any city street. Police Chief Keith Killian said it’s a significant problem. Again, some from the business community and surprisingly some from the religious community were also critical of this kind of activity but for different reasons. Chief Killian said it’s unsafe because somebody’s standing within inches of cars and trucks whizzing by and doubly unsafe when a motorist stops at a street corner with a green light to pass a five dollar bill to a homeless person holding a sign. “It endangers the motoring public as well as those panhandling.”
Some businesses again cited the image problem with panhandlers greeting tourists instead of blue skies, a big ocean and sandy beaches. One local church pastor chided anyone who would give money to someone without knowing what it’s going for – and that too often it’s for drugs and/or alcohol. The pastor said too often people give money thinking one thing, but, in fact, their money goes for something entirely different. He said “We just enable people to stay stuck in their addictions and bad life habits. If people want to donate, let them give to the charities that try to help the down-trodden and homeless – something the religious community does every day and gets good results.”
The conversation then turned to allegations that government can’t stop what is, by the U.S. Constitution, “free speech.” “Begging,” said City Attorney Richard Appicello, “is protected free speech.” But he quickly added that the issue isn’t about begging. It’s about standing on the sidewalk, or on the side of a travel lane, holding a sign and disrupting traffic while somebody shoves money out a car window. Such activities are inherently unsafe – not only to the soliciting person with the sign but to the safe flow of traffic and everybody flowing with it.
The council agreed that a proposed ordinance to give this “street disruptive” style of panhandling the boot should be brought back at a future council meeting – but with some minor changes – mainly figuring out the cost of the ticket that would be issued by a police officer who caught a motorist and a panhandler exchanging “property” – read that ‘money.’ The law that the city attorney reviewed was one that has been in effect, and working quite well in Ashland and Medford. Both the panhandler and the person who forked over the money are ticketed. Appicello said that as long as someone in a car pulls off the street without causing a rear-ender, those in the car can pass out as much money as they want. They just can’t do it in the middle of traffic. That proposed city ordinance will also be brought back before the city council on August 8th. And the WRITTEN public comment period will run through Noon on August 3rd. Those comments can be emailed, mailed or dropped off in person at city hall, third floor, north end.
By the way, the solicitation by North Lincoln Firefighters during their annual “Fill the Boot” donation drive are not affected by this prohibition. When firefighters hold their annual fundraiser, there are warning signs and cones set up so when firefighters run around between cars and stash the cash in their boots, everybody knows what’s going on – that it’s a special event for which the Fire District must first get a permit.