I am disappointed to read in the Waxahachie Daily Light that the city has passed a new law that effectively criminalizes people in need and adds barriers to their being able to ask others for help.
The police chief is quoted as saying the so-called panhandling ordinance is not intended to prevent people from seeking assistance.
However, its onerous provisions ensure that the result will be to legally bless harassment of vulnerable people and to make their lives more difficult.
The article states that the reason for the ordinance is because some panhandlers are “taking advantage of people’s generosity” and the police have no way absent a new law to investigate whether someone is “running a scam.”
But this law is not about investigating possible scams. Rather, it gives the city the wide-ranging ability to harass members of a disenfranchised segment of our community by regulating their movement, whom they associate with, their speech, and the amount of distance they must maintain from people who are not like them. To use a biblical reference, it treats them as lepers.
They must obtain permits and submit to background checks – which include being photographed and fingerprinted – and if they are cited twice for one of the restrictive provisions, then they are ineligible for a permit, which of course will lead to more legal entanglements for them. (And these rules apparently apply not only to individuals or families seeking assistance but to nonprofit organizations as well.)
This panhandling ordinance seems like quite a heavy load of extra burdens to pile on our legal system, charity organizations and the homeless simply because we do not want to be inconvenienced or bothered by strangers.
Of course, I am aware that we have people who use scams to take advantage of others, and that it is troublesome and even scary to be approached by someone we do not know. But this law will hurt far more people than those running scams. Some folks are simply down on their luck, have had a few bad breaks in life and need a helping hand, a meal, a few dollars or a prayer. Some are not able to help themselves because they are suffering from addiction, mental illness or terrible personal loss. What are we doing to help them?
I have a friend in Dallas who operates a homeless ministry. He points out that it may be easy to tell a homeless person to “go get a job,” but if you have no home and no resources, what do you wear to the interview? How does someone contact you? How do you get to the job site? What do you give your employer as your address?
The point is that it is, of course, good for someone to get a job, but not always easily done on your own if you have already hit rock bottom. Some of the hurting people I encounter already have jobs, but they still are struggling to make it day to day. This ordinance severely penalizes them. As a city, we can do better.