Rejecting Draconian Measures, Council Narrows Focus on Dealing with Panhandling

The Davis City Council again heard concerns from residents and downtown property and business owners about the harmful impact of unchecked panhandlers and the presence of homeless people.

The consensus of the council was to reject measures such as “sit-lie” ordinances which seemed to “criminalize homelessness.”  Councilmember Will Arnold said, “I’m not very excited about a sit-lie ordinance,” which he called “draconian.”

Instead, the council focused on smaller measures that could help alleviate the problems.

These ideas include a way to deal with private property in public spaces, which becomes not just a nuisance and visual blight, but creates public safety concerns as there are fights and other disputes.  Whether the council can create spaces, lockers, or can use confiscation, the council left more options open.

One of the complaints, from Lynne and Randy Yackzan, who own property along Fourth and G Street including the parking garage, is the high cost of security and cleaning up human waste.  They cited an annual cost of $60,000 for security and clean up.

The council took heed and noted once again – to a person – the need for restrooms that are public and accessible.  Mayor Robb Davis called this “a no-brainer.”

Councilmember Will Arnold noted that people have to “sit down and sleep” and they have to use the restroom.

Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee pushed for the council to regulate panhandling to make it more safe, but not ban it.  One idea was to prohibit people from soliciting money from vehicles.  Another idea was to carve out a distance away from the entrance  to a store.  As he pointed out, panhandling on a corner is different from being right at the entrance to a store front.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs asked the staff to explore the Albuquerque approach which focuses on job training.  Councilmember Arnold and Councilmember Frerichs and others suggested the city look at boxes where the city could “direct handout dollars towards social service agencies rather than to panhandlers.”

Following a suggestion from a public commenter, they also called for a 24-hour drop possibility.

Mayor Pro Tem Lee said, “I think there is a reasonable concern from the shopkeepers and people downtown about what’s going on downtown.”  He added, “I think it’s very important that we don’t criminalize homelessness.”

Councilmember Swanson noted that there are people in the downtown who have property stretched across the sidewalk, and are very rude with their aggressive-looking dogs.  “I’ve had a couple of clients shocked … they didn’t expect that in downtown Davis,” she said.  “I think we need to continue to be a compassionate open society, but I think we need to help those that we can help and limit the bad behavior.”

Councilmember Frerichs said they have heard from many in the community about their specific experiences with panhandlers.  He said, “It has definitely been on the increase.”  He added, “People being accosted, the loose aggressive dogs, and in some cases the accumulation of copious amounts of items, people’s belongings, and people living in the public spaces, particularly E St Plaza.”

He said, “I do think there are some additional regulations needed.”  However, he said, “We need to be using a scalpel versus the cleaver,” and he said it is also important to distinguish panhandling from homelessness.

Councilmember Arnold, like his colleagues, indicated he was not “excited” about a “sit-lie” ordinance.”  He did say that he wanted to see the city get as specific as possible about panhandling.

He said, “I want to see a menu of options for what we can do in terms of limiting places where people can panhandle.”  He added that he wanted to create places for the public to go and not be solicited for a contribution.

He was hopeful that having boxes for donations to social services would have an impact by drying up the attractiveness of panhandling as an income source.  On the other hand, he remained mindful that people needed to have a place to sleep and a place to eliminate human waste.

Mayor Robb Davis had some extensive comments on the issue, as homelessness is an issue that he has spent a lot of time thinking about.

“We don’t really know what’s going on in the lives of the people who are engaging in these behaviors,” the mayor acknowledged at the start.  “That’s because it’s not one thing.”

He was at the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter a couple of times in the last few weeks, and he noted that there is not a capacity fill right now.  He said he worked with some students at the shelter and they noted that “there’s a lot of people who aren’t here.”

He said, “The reality is that a shelter is a really good place to get out of the rain, but a shelter is also a good place where you give up your autonomy.  Lest we think that homeless individuals are different from the rest of us, in valuing our personal space, valuing an evening where you have quiet, alone, you put yourself with 25 or 30 other people in a church – as nice as it might be… you’re giving up something.”

“There are people who will not come in,” he said.

In a later point, he noted, “It doesn’t take a lot of money to self-medicate.”  The reality is that, even if they go to boxed donations, it may reduce contributions to panhandling, but it won’t reduce it to zero and it doesn’t take much to get access to alcohol and drugs.

The real problem, he said, is he doesn’t think these measures of trying to get people to stop giving will work without access to mental health services – and he said, “there is a lack of services available.”

Nevertheless, the mayor was willing to agree to efforts to “support clamping down on the activity if it comes with a restorative process.”

He argued that “we create this problem over a generation” and we are “not going to dig out of it through prohibition.”

The council sent their list of suggestions and preferred solutions to city staff who will assess the legality, look at ways other communities have approached these issues and return to council with a more concrete set of proposals.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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45 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    My thanks to the city council members for addressing this issue in a balanced manner respectful of the needs and rights of all of the members of our community regardless of their economic and/or social standing.

      1. Tia Will

        Jerry

        I frequently do write to our council members, usually in very brief form so as not to waste their time with emails that are public record. I often post the same sentiments, often with more elaboration here on the Vanguard, since I feel it is easier for the Vanguard readership to tune me out than it is for the city council members who may well have the same desire.

        1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

          Tia

          I disagree .  Professionally written  open letter is no the same as yapping about on DV  and is not the waste of time of city council  members . You are a good skilled writer and you  you could encourage  city council members to share their views on DV . David is more type reporter and journalist . This is different.  Don’t be a chicken .

        2. Howard P

          Written communications, depending how delivered, are arguably, ‘public record’… if transmitted by hand, or by mail to an individual at their home, NOT… if delivered via City Offices, that’s where the ‘arguably’ comes in to play…

        3. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

          Howard

          By  trying to convince Tia to write an open letter to city counsel member  I meant to that Tia should  express her  heartfelt  vision  as  a member of community how  and why  the city should help  less  fortunate for  their and the  community benefits . Tia can do  a lot more with her  writing skill than  “my thanks to city council members” on DV . Just thought and encouragement. Nothing else.

  2. David Greenwald

    I was glad to see the council address the bathroom issue.  It is a big problem.  With young kids, they have sudden needs for restrooms and it’s hard to find public bathrooms.  As someone who works in downtown, we have limited bathrooms in my building and sometimes the need arises to find an exterior restroom and I often have to purchase a drink to use one.  That’s an option not available for many in the homeless community.  And we have seen from the drinking issue, students who have consumed alcohol and walk home have similar issues as Alan Miller has often referenced.

    1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

      David

      Lack of public bathrooms in the cities   downtown is a problem which I don’t understand why this problem is a problem .  I am not sure if city would issue a business permit if somebody would like to open a private bathroom facilities in the downtown and charge  for using it . ?

  3. Alan Miller

    I am so totally in favor of the public bathrooms, and there should be more than one.  I also think it is going to be a very controversial issue.  They have to be in the right places, and built so as to not become hangouts for those with no place to go.  Businesses are going to fight having the locations near them.  Look at the downtown bathroom in Santa Cruz.  Disheveled people everywhere, dirty and a bit intimidating to walk into.

    Yes, it’s a no-brainer, but we had better look at a lot of cities for their designs.  One of the best I ever went to was at the border in San Ysidro.  Nothing but a block of port-a-pottys behind a fence.  The key was, they had washing-person there with a hose and mop, and they constantly went around and sprayed down, stocked, and mopped the stalls.  It felt clean, safe and usable.

    1. Howard P

      Let’s see… more public bathrooms  in the Core*… more intensive business use in the Core… less public expenditures from the GF… initial and on-“go”ing… promotion as a place to go to (or “go” in)… yeah that looks like a synergistic mix.  Right…

      *[I’d re-word that to ‘restrooms’ or ‘toilets’, unless one is advocating showers/baths](and then would “transparency'” apply?  THAT might increase downtown visits!)

    1. John Hobbs

      ‘Apparently not David’s.There is n point in posting when gibberish, ignorance, sedition and self promotion are acceptable but pointed, on topic humor and criticism is not.I bid you all adieu. David has succeeded in making the Vanguard as sterile as the DE, with less variety. Schedule the funeral.

    2. Alan Miller

      Oh you have GOT to be  kidding me . . .

      . . . you actually removed the cartoon?  Hey everyone, I’m not answering to myself, I’m answering to a hilarious cartoon posted by John Hobbs of a urinal with a painting of rolling stones lips around it with Donalds Trump’s head around the lips.  Exactly WHAT policy in your editorial policy was violated by posting a humor picture that tied in with the story?

      Have we completely lost our sense of humor?  Is the Vanguard now so sterile it must be safe for eight-year-olds?  Is it now so politically correct that if a single person is offended, then the item should be removed?  Did it occur to you maybe the complainer (if there was one) wasn’t really offended, but was actually trying to stifle right-leaning commenters by complaining?

      So now John Hobbs, a “new” (or recycled) face around here, and almost the only interesting person (in that he seems to THINK) now posting since the ban went into effect, and now they are leaving or at least disgusted.  So now all we have is lefties arguing with lefties (and occasionally a token one-trick conservative).  How dull.  Did anyone listen to what Obama said yesterday about the dangers of us all (right and left) listening only to those that think like us?

      Indeed I agree with John Hobbs:  the Vanguard comments section is going the way of the Enterprise.  Schedule the funeral.

      And what’s with deleting the post without referencing that it was deleted?  So my comment on the deleted post is just hanging out there ass to the wind.  Thanks, great editing . . . great editing . . .

      [moderator] It has been our standard practice that we don’t allow discussion of national politics in articles about local issues.

      1. Jaroslaw Waszczuk

        Hey everyone, I’m not answering to myself, I’m answering to a hilarious cartoon posted by John Hobbs of a urinal with a painting of rolling stones lips around it with Donalds Trump’s head around the lips.
        Have we completely lost our sense of humor?  Is the Vanguard now so sterile it must be safe for eight-year-olds?

        Have we completely lost our sense of humor?  Is the Vanguard now so sterile it must be safe for eight-year-olds?  Is it now so politically correct that if a single person is offended, then the item should be removed? 

        Alan

        The John Hobbs’s    urinal -post with  a painting of rolling stones lips around it with Donalds Trump’s head around the lips is nothing to do with political correctness or to be offended or not  It is just disgusting .  Post the picture with  urinal  with  a painting of rolling stones lips around it with  your own face or head and have some fun . Come on Alan . I don’t believe that you like Joseph Goebbels’s type propaganda .

  4. Howard P

    Forgetting about the differences in design, having toilets/urinals on exterior business walls, with access from the public sidewalk, might cut down on the vandalism, other bad behaviors that often occur in public “bath” rooms… might call for some changes in the ‘indecent exposure’ laws… and as shown, could support/inspire public art…

    Same would be true for that type of  ‘very public’ showers… performance art, as it were…

  5. Tia Will

     

    Just thought and encouragement. Nothing else.”

    While suggestions to improve one’s effectiveness are always welcome, it would seem that you are aware that I have on several occasions both to individual council members, including one public comment before the city council, and in previous communications including emails and  personal conversations with the individual council members, made my feelings about a balanced, equitable and comprehensive approach to the homeless problem known. You would have no way of knowing that so I am in no way offended by your suggestion that I do now what I have already been doing over a several year period.

    Given the number of times that I have previously communicated, I felt that a simple thank you was warranted. As a conversation space, I felt that Vanguard was a reasonable venue.

    1. David Greenwald

      I thought it was a good discussion and statement of values. The problem is that I’m not sure how far available remedies can take us. Robb made it a point last night to push for more city funding, which I appreciate, but without more systemic funding, I fear we are simply yelling into a gale.

      1. Howard P

        Let’s see… the agenda topic was panhandling… nothing was done, as far as I can discern… the “off-topic” subject of the homeless, in general, was raised… and now the topic has become ‘public restrooms’… “It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack…”

        1. Robb Davis30

          The presenting issue was “panhandling” but even the staff report mentioned other issues of concern, the leaving of personal property in public spaces being one.  Thus, the conversation was broader than panhandling and while there was every attempt to divorce these from panhandling it was not always possible to do so.  For anyone following the discussion you know that the Police and the CC acknowledged the complexity of these issues which include overlapping presenting problems, syndromes of addiction and poor mental health, and whether or not current social service provision is meeting real needs.

          In the end we chose to take approaches that help us to learn more, to deal with each in a finer way rather than act as if they are all related, and continue the work we have already begun.

          This CC has made provision of public restrooms (plural) a priority and reiterated it last night in the context of one of th presenting problems.  That is the link.

          (I guess I am now “RobbDavis30” but I am still Robb Davis–cool pic though)

    1. Alan Miller

      > pack of panhandling opportunists who come to Davis to take advantage of our town.

      I believe you have it backwards, the problem is the people in our town who attract the opportunists.

    2. Richard C

      I believe you have it backwards, the problem is the people in our town who attract the opportunists.

      Yes, If people would stop giving money directly to panhandlers and instead direct their funds to the charities that provide services to the disadvantaged, we would see an end to panhandling.

      1. David Greenwald

        I think Robb’s point from Tuesday is an important one – unless we deal with the lack of services and people self-medicating and unless we get the number of handouts to zero – we realistically aren’t going to see an end to panhandling. Nevertheless, having drop boxes would be a good a start.

        1. Don Shor

          I think we should stop using the euphemism “self-medicating” for people who are drinking and using drugs. You don’t know that they have conditions which they are trying to treat.

        2. Richard C

          …unless we get the number of handouts to zero – we realistically aren’t going to see an end to panhandling.

          So perhaps we should work towards getting the handouts to near zero.  One idea would be for merchants to all post signs in their businesses encouraging people not to give cash to panhandlers.  Merchants could have collection boxes for people to contribute to charities that provide services for people in need.  Maybe the Chamber of Commerce could coordinate such a program?

        3. Howard P

          Don… your 7:42 post…

          I agree… there is some truth to the term, yet, to deny addiction/chemical dependence/mental illness for what they are, is a “cop-out’… they are real issues, but “self-medicating” tends to gloss them over.

        4. David Greenwald

          Don: I disagree, I think the term self-medicating indicates that there are people with unchecked depression and mental illness who are not getting services – that is the exact problem we need to address and therefore that is an appropriate term.  I agree with you that not all have this issue.

      2. Howard P

        That is not a true statement… there will never be an end to panhandling… what you suggest may well crimp/discourage the increase in panhandling… but end?  Not real…

  6. Robb Davis30

    Thus, the conversation was broader than panhandling and while there was every attempt to divorce these from panhandling it was not always possible to do so.

    Sorry, divorce panhandling from homelessness…

    Also, we requested additional restrictions on panhandling to occupants of parked cars and asked staff to look into lockers/storage, tagging and removal of personal items on the street (given the public safety implications) and the idea of a drop in center for people in need of services.

  7. Tia Will

    it is time to take a much stronger stance against this pack of panhandling opportunists”

    I have a different perspective on this issue. I have been homeless twice in my early life. Although I was never in a position where I had to panhandle, the only thing that saved me from this was the presence of friends or relatives who were able to temporarily take me into their homes. The first time was due to a fire in the cabin I was renting. The second time was when I left an abusive relationship with little except my clothes, my dog and $200.00.

    I think that it is important to realize that those that we call a “pack of opportunists” are also people. They are usually people whose stories we do not know. We may not know their personal histories, what challenges they have and are facing. But at the end of the day, there is something that most of us do know. We know that when it is cold, or raining, or dark, we have a safe place to go to. At least some of these “opportunists” may not, either by their own choice, or sometimes through no fault of their own.

  8. Carson

    New years eve, I went to dinner at Paesanos with my family , and another family.  In the G street wide sidewalk area next to the lot there were TWO giant mounds of  belongings, bikes, wheels, burleys, boxes, tarps.  Were there people hammering drugs inside them? Sleeping?  who knows.  Why is this tolerated?  Could I go dump 20 square feet of garbage on a sidewalk and sleep within it?
    Our community is targeted by transients, because we are known to have 1. Tons of idiots who will give them $, and 2. a police force and city leadership hamstrung by the same people.

    1. Panhandlers will come like moths to a flame to a town like Davis.  They will come as long as they are allowed to be on our streets, parks and corners, and as long as people give them $.

    2. They dont care about shelter meals and services, because those orgs dont provide them with the substances they are addicted to.

    This city, and the people writing above, are FACILITATING the continued addiction, and debased life of these people.  Saying oh well, we arent going to do anything until people elsewhere “fix” these issues is a cop out.  If you wouldnt walk up to the 300 lb homeless man  who sits at panda express all day, and hand him a 5th… then dont give him $… newsflash, he isnt starving to death..

    1. Richard C

      ….we are known to have 1. Tons of idiots who will give them $

      I wouldn’t call them “idiots”, rather I think they are uninformed and unrealistic..  I know some people who do give cash to panhandlers because the “feel sorry for them”.  What we need is for merchants and the Council members to inform people that giving cash to panhandlers is not the best way to help the needy.

    2. Howard P

      What you say has some truth, but also is unkind and partially untrue… many of the homeless are not “addicted”, nor drug-dependent… I have met and talked with them… some have dogs… shelters generally don’t admit them with their “companions”… of the ones I’ve gotten to know, they give more attention to their companions, than they do to themselves.  Since faith-based shelters are the norm here in Davis, others feel they will be proselytized (untrue, by the way).  Particularly those who feel ‘guilty’ about their state… they will avoid more ‘guilt’…

      Will leave to others the difference between weight and nutrition… am not qualified in that area… but I know there is a difference… I say that as someone who tends to be bigoted against the morbidly obese.

  9. Tia Will

    Carson

    They dont care about shelter meals and services, because those orgs dont provide them with the substances they are addicted to”

    Your comment demonstrates that you are aware that for at least some of these individuals, the problem is addiction ( aka an illness) not a lifestyle choice. So my question for you is that short of driving these people out of our community through harsh, punitive measures, what would your suggestions be ?

      1. Eric Gelber

        … they should be committed and treated.

        There are already laws against “P and S and F” in public (if I understand what you are referring to) and we don’t lock people up and forceably treat them merely because they have an addiction or mental disorder, nor do we lock people up for eating and sleeping in parks. Perhaps you have some less draconian suggestions.

  10. Tia Will

    Howard

    Will leave to others the difference between weight and nutrition… am not qualified in that area… but I know there is a difference… I say that as someone who tends to be bigoted against the morbidly obese.”

    I think this comment illustrates an important point about making assumptions. When we see someone panhandling, unless we stop and talk with them, we have no idea of their situation. While it is true that the 300 lb individual does not appear to be lacking in caloric intake does not mean that they are not acutely ill from diabetes, hypothyroidism or some other illness, such as mental illness,  that is contributing to both their weight and their inability to adequately manage their lives in a manner that many would not consider “debased”.  Addressing the problems of panhandlers, the homeless, or simply those who are not coping constructively with what they find an overwhelming societal structure is a very complex issue and I think that focusing further on a comprehensive approach to these intertwined issues is a good step forward

     

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