If only we could keep them out of the median and leave it at that.
If only it were this easy:
A couple of panhandlers seeking monetary donations were spotted every now and then earlier this summer at or near Crookston’s busiest, most high-profile intersection, at University and Fisher avenues. They held up makeshift cardboard signs that made their plight known and stood there for hours. The guy that people seemed to notice most planted himself in the grassy median between the eastbound and westbound lanes of University Avenue.
Which is a problem. To clarify, the latter of which is a problem, not the fact that a couple down-and-out guys held up cardboard signs hoping motorists passing by and stuck at a red light would find it in their hearts to give them a couple bucks.
Crookston City Council members, Mayor Dave Genereux and Police Chief Tim Motherway agree that the median is a bad place for a panhandler to set up shop on Crookston’s north end. Motorists passing by or bicyclists or pedestrians are certainly not in the wrong if they feel uncomfortable having to pass in such close proximity to a stranger begging for money. Then there’s the fact that a panhandler in the median could be a potential traffic hazard and distract passing motorists to the degree that an accident takes place.
So add some language to a city ordinance that prohibits panhandlers from panhandling from the median, right? Seems easy enough. The problem is, Motherway said at a city Public Safety Committee meeting last week, the city currently lacks a panhandler/beggar ordinance, and only has language in the code book relating to transient merchants and peddlers.
Which leaves city officials two basic choices:
1. Conclude that a couple of panhandlers seen in Crookston a couple times a year doesn’t yet reach the threshold of a problem that requires immediate city action, even if they stand in the median sometimes, and do nothing at this time
2. Approve an “aggressive” panhandler ordinance that restricts where panhandlers can locate themselves, by including language relating to medians and a host of other locations
Is panhandling a problem that warrants a new ordinance in Crookston? Is it worth the time and money at this point? After all, these are people who are, according to countless legal opinions, acting fully within their First Amendment rights.
While this situation might not qualify as fixing something that isn’t broken, it does seem to be a bit of an overreaction to aggressively restrict panhandlers seeking a handout in Crookston, when only two have been spotted here. If Crookston becomes a haven for them, that’s one thing. But we seem to be pretty far from that.
If we could just keep them out of the median and leave it at that...