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Pocatello Police aims to crack down on street soliciting

proposed panhandling ordinace

POCATELLO, Idaho - The Pocatello Police Department's Lt. Paul Manning had been getting so many complaints about panhandlers roaming the streets, he decided to make it his mission to crack-down on this as part of a bigger picture to make the city's streets a bit safer.

So this past Spring, he decided to do some research and found some agencies in both Idaho and Utah who have tried to draft ordinances dealing with panhandlers. 

The problem there, is the fact that panhandlers have a constitutional right to be on a sidewalk.

So, he found other jurisdictions that approached the issue targeting motorists, making it illegal to stop in a traffic lane.

Manning found it only fair to then propose his own version of an ordinance similar to the ones he researched that would combine their ideas.

"I essentially took both of them, combined them together, and just said that it will be illegal to do any type of hand-to-hand exchange," Manning said.

This way, he's targeting panhandlers alone, but others who stop traffic from the side of the road to propose other business deals you can do right through your car window.

"This includes anything for sale, anything for trade, any kind of barter. So, this proposal is not to single-out any particular class or type of person. It's to prevent crime."

Manning said it's dangerous for cars to be stopping in the middle of a busy traffic lane to give hand-outs to people standing on the street. 

Mocha Madness manager Casey Gustaveson said he has also noticed an increase in panhandlers hanging around his local coffee shop.

But, that's not to say you can't help out the panhandler you see standing on the street corner.

Manning said it's perfectly fine to help them out, just as long as you pull over, legally, or even park in the closest parking lot before getting out of your car to give to them.

"If they're not in the store, they'll just be out there on the corner making people so uncomfortable they don't want to approach them or come in," Gustaveson said.

In fact, he said although he's pretty laid-back when it comes to most panhandlers who are just traversing through town, he has been forced to call the police on others who tend to stick around and harass his customers.

"If they just want to come by and use our restroom or WiFi, I'm fine with that. But when they start hassling customers and drive business away, that's when we have to shoo them off. Sometimes, it takes more than one time. We have to have the police come and tell them not to come back."

Manning said as the weather warms up, usually that is the time we start to see more panhandlers out and about.

Gustaveson said he usually likes to talk to some of them to hear their stories. He said although there's a good number of transient panhandlers along with those who are down on their luck and just trying to get by, he's noticing a bigger influx in panhandlers who have just stopped trying altogether.

"For example, there was this guy who was getting all of these job offers on the corner for minimum wage and he said, 'no, i'm making $12 an hour doing this,'" Gustaveson said.

In fact, Manning noted that some panhandlers can make up to $80 per day, tax free. 

Which, happened to be another factor into his drive to create this ordinance.

"On one hand you have someone standing on a street corner getting paid minimum wage to hold a sign while paying taxes on that wage. And then on the other hand you have someone standing across the street on the opposite corner with a cardboard sign making virtually the same amount of money, and not paying any taxes," Manning said.

Gustaveson said he would back this ordinance based on what he has seen.

"I think at this point now, at least from my experience, it's outweighed with people not wanting to work or people having drug habits and stuff like that over people who are having a hard time trying to get back on their feet," Gustaveson said.

The Homeless and Housing Coalition of Southeast Idaho's Mark Dahlquist said the coalition is excited to back the ordinance, saying it will keep everyone safer.

He also said the coalition is now working to make resource cards people can hand-out to panhandlers, pointing them in the right direction toward the community's local non-profit organizations.

"Helping out the down and out is definitely a good thing, but we urge people to send their donations to their local non-profits instead," Dahlquist said. "Keep in mind the broader perspective. There are so many more of these people who are in similar situations as the person you are helping."

He also mentioned donating to the local non-profit such as The Idaho Food Bank and SEICAA would be able to help more people, making donations a more efficient way to help out the community's fellow mankind.

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