Panhandling

A man holds a sign saying he is a homeless veteran and he needs a little help at the intersection of access roads to Interstate 35 and South H.K. Dodgen Loop on Wednesday.

Opinions widely vary in Temple and elsewhere about people who stand on street corners and ask for money, food or jobs.

The city of Temple has an ordinance that covers aggressive soliciting, but in general doesn’t make soliciting — or panhandling — a violation of the law, Chris Christoff, Temple Police Department spokesman, said.

Panhandling means an act of begging and may go as far back as 1849, according to some sources. It may have referred to an arm stuck out like a panhandle or someone who handled a beggar’s pan.

Aggressive soliciting has its definition in city of Temple ordinances as:

  • Touching the solicited person without consent.
  • Blocking the path of a pedestrian, person in a vehicle or entry to a building or vehicle during solicitation.
  • Following behind, ahead or alongside a person who walks away from the panhandler after being solicited.
  • Using profane or abusive language during the solicitation or following a refusal, or any gesture or communication that would “cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, or feel compelled to donate.”

“As long as they are not violating this ordinance, they are not in violation of the law,” Christoff said.

Most of the solicitors in Temple stand in the medians with signs to ask for help.

Temple Police Department has no way to look up how many callers report panhandling since it’s not a crime in Temple, he said.

In a nutshell, what officers can do is stop someone from blocking you from leaving or driving, touching you, yelling or cursing at you, using ugly gestures or making you afraid. If someone is acting in an unsafe manner regarding traffic they can be cited.

A few years ago, regulations were fairly common for cities, but the cities now believe those regulations could be ruled unconstitutional, Temple City Attorney Kayla Landeros said.

Although Temple’s regulations haven’t been challenged, it was recommended by the legal staff that the regulations not be enforced until a possible amendment was drafted or more research was done, she said.

“For a while, we have not been enforcing Article 1 of Chapter 26 because of these concerns,” Landeros said. “It has been difficult for cities to come up with a non-content-based regulation that still tries to address some of the concerns (the city has).”

Belton’s stand

“We don’t have any regular panhandling activity on Belton streets,” Paul Romer, city of Belton spokesman, said Wednesday.

Belton’s ordinance against solicitation addresses people lying or sitting in the improved part of a street — or median — or the shoulder of the road because it’s a safety risk to the vehicles, pedestrians and the solicitors or panhandlers.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to stand, sit or (lay) in a street, median, roadway or public right of way to solicit a ride, contribution, employment or business from the occupant of a vehicle operating on a public roadway.”

Public comments

Some Facebook readers feel more resources are needed for people that would keep them off street corners.

“An ordinance will not end the problem,” Janiece Charlez said.

Dee Dinscore agreed with Charlez, he said.

“I think if we have an ordinance against it we should have help in its place,” Dinscore said.

Others such as Brenda Stephens and Ronson Pechal said panhandling is a big distraction for drivers. Some block vision and some are too aggressive.

“Drivers do not need any extra distractions than they already do,” Pechal said. “Plus the chance of the people on the street getting run over. Just my opinion. Plus it doesn’t look good on our city.”

Robyn Skrhak lives in Rogers but frequently comes into Temple. She’s approached by panhandlers about 90 percent of the time and it makes her “very uncomfortable when approached,” she said.

“Temple panhandlers have gotten way out of hand. I don’t even carry a purse anymore when I go out shopping,” Skrhak said.

One man used his child to beg for money, according to Cheryl Danner. She and her sister called the police about him, she said.

Danner and her husband, Kent, a Vietnam veteran, once asked a man why he stood on a corner with his picture on a sign to get money and his reply was “Why not?” she said.

“Temple Police Department used to have a tight handle on panhandlers,” Skrhak said. “I’m not sure when they decided to give up and let them run rampant.”

Ordinance not enforced

Cindy Pagel said, the way she understands it, the Temple ordinance “is no longer enforced.”

Some people do it for drugs and alcohol and are open about it — even writing it on their signs, Linda Pease said.

Others such as Richard Deleon wonder why healthy-looking people aren’t working instead of asking for money.

To some people, such as Rachel Bond, it doesn’t matter why the solicitors are there; they will give what they can when they can.

“Certain communities in our area have laws against panhandling, but no laws against helping them,” Bond said. “So I’ll keep doing what I do; helping someone else is never against the law in these situations.”

Some people give food to people on the streets instead of money. Nell Fischer Brindley prays for people she sees on street corners. Still others said they are worried Temple will “turn into Austin.”

Whether or not an individual helps someone soliciting on a street corner is up to that individual.