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Irritated over panhandling, former mayor speaks out

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Begging for money on the street is legal and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But, it is not OK with former Ashland Mayor Alan DeBoer.

After the Mail Tribune newspaper printed an article about panhandlers Elizabeth Johnson and Jason Pancoast, who apparently live well begging for money in Ashland, Rosemary Harrington jumped into the discussion on her show, Morning Express on KCMX Newstalk 880 AM radio.

&

It bugs the holy tar out of me,&

Harrington said of panhandling in downtown Ashland.

DeBoer called the morning talk show to express his thoughts on the subject. DeBoer recounted about a time when he heard Johnson speak at an Ashland Housing Commision meeting about affordable housing. DeBoer offered his assistance afterwards when he heard about her trying to support her young children.

&

I walked up to her and said, &

145;Can I give you a present?&

&

DeBoer said, &

and I gave her $200 in cash. I felt pretty stupid about it later.&

In the Tribune article, Johnson explained how the couple has been together for 14 years and supports their three children and live in a hotel on a panhandling budget.

The couple was quoted as calling themselves &

affluent beggars&

in the article, though it explained affluent in this context to mean those among the city&

s homeless who can provide for basic needs.

The couple&

s situation irritated DeBoer.

&

We really should have a law against panhandling and asking for money,&

DeBoer said.

However, according to Ashland police officer Mike Vanderlip, there is no specific law that prohibits panhandling in the city of Ashland. Because panhandling is considered a form of free speech &

similar to a political speech outlining one&

s personal situation &

it is legal.

&

A lot of times we use the term aggressive panhandling,&

Vanderlip said. &

But usually the only time we give people a citation is when they&

re blocking traffic or in a doorway &

not because they&

re asking for money.&

According to Vanderlip, most people who are cited for panhandling-related crimes fall under Ashland Municipal Codes 10.44.015 and 10.64.010 (Pedestrian Interference and Obstructing Passageways) or Oregon Revised Statutes ORS 166.025, ORS 166.065 and ORS 164.245 (Disorderly Conduct, Harassment and Criminal Trespass, respectively).

&

If they (panhandlers) are standing in front of you and say &

145;give me money, or I won&

t let you by,&

then we can cite them for disorderly conduct,&

Vanderlip said, &

but they can say just about anything.&

While cities like Atlanta have passed ordinances banning panhandling around popular tourist attractions, the American Civil Liberties Union has won battles in the past concerning the panhandling issue.

In a 1995 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case in Berkeley, Calif., the ACLU changed city laws prohibiting sitting on city sidewalks and peaceful soliciting.

In an article by Maria Archuleta about the class action lawsuit, the author quoted ACLU attorney Alan Schlosser as saying, &

Under the Berkeley law, someone holding up a sign stating &

145;Vietnam vet, support our troops&

is engaged in permissible free speech while the same person holding a sign, &

145;Vietnam vet, please help out,&

is engaged in criminal speech.

&

If Berkeley wants to deal with obstruction, harassment or threats from aggressive soliciting, then they should create a content-neutral ordinance. Berkeley did not want to deal with those problems. It wanted to sweep in an entire group of people who solicit on the streets.&

While the ACLU won the Berkeley case, panhandlers in Atlanta were not so lucky. And while the idea of banning panhandling in Ashland has barely been offered, DeBoer said there is a lifestyle choice that people need to make.

&

People make a conscious decision to go out and look for a job or ask for money,&

DeBoer said. &

It just doesn&

t seem like a good life choice.&

But is, for now anyway, a legal choice, irritating for some as that may be.