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City reins in panhandling

Officials impose rules supported by downtown business owners

Panhandling in Spokane will be greatly restricted as a result of two new laws approved by the City Council on Monday night.

One set of regulations will prohibit begging within 15 feet of building entrances, ATMs, pay phones, fuel pumps, bus stops, taxi zones, self-service car washes and any parked car when someone is entering or exiting it.

The other ordinance prohibits lying or sitting on the sidewalk throughout most of downtown.

A third regulation that would have prohibited begging along arterial streets was pulled before a vote because city attorneys, responding to testimony last week, questioned whether it would meet constitutional requirements on free speech.

The other panhandling rules, plus changes to the city’s existing aggressive-panhandling ordinance and rules that lessen restrictions on street musicians, were approved unanimously.

“It’s a good compromise that hopefully recognizes the rights of every person while trying to create conditions that don’t disrupt the central core retail areas,” said Councilman Steve Corker.

Both laws were supported by downtown business leaders who argued that panhandlers deter customers, and that money made by begging would be better spent on charity.

Hank Valder, who often testifies at City Council meetings and is formerly homeless, said the panhandling problem is caused by a shortage of affordable housing.

He said a program should be started to allow homeless people to sell newspapers where they now ask for money.

“My worry is this: that these people aren’t going to get that cup of coffee in the morning to warm their hands up,” said Valder, who opposes the new ordinances.

The new rules remove requirements for most street musicians to get a peddler’s license.

Rick Bocook, a harmonica player who has pushed for the change and goes by the name Harpman Hatter, said he believes the rule will help bring more culture to downtown.