Curry County attorney Jerry Herbage is looking into the legalities of making panhandling illegal countywide – and it may focus on citizens giving money rather than those receiving it.
The issue has resurfaced because of people who “fly their signs,” notably in Harbor. People asking for money know it’s illegal to do so in the city of Brookings, so they cross the Chetco River bridge to Harbor and work the shopping malls.
“It’s tough on business,” said County Commissioner David Itzen. “Business owners have come to meetings and talked about the difficulties they’ve had there. All you have to do is go up to Rite Aid and talk with some of those folks and what they’ve put up with; it’s been very unpleasant.”
And it’s difficult for the Sheriff’s Office, which covers unincorporated Curry County – including the six miles between Brookings and the California border – to respond to calls with its limited resources.
Herbage said he will soon start to research what other municipalities and counties have done and how well it has worked. Additionally, there might be Constitutional rulings – possibly involving the freedom of speech – that limit what can be done. It could be, however, addressed under the purview of public safety.
And that could lead to questions regarding the legality of motorists who give the panhandlers food or water, which many do.
But if commissioners can fashion an ordinance making it illegal to give people money – it could improve the situation for merchants.
“That would take the incentive away,” Itzen said. “If a guy’s going to be there panhandling and no one’s going to give him any money, what’s the point?”
Oftentimes, officers shoo the panhandler on, knowing there is no room in the jail, nor time to do paperwork on someone who usually will be given a warm meal and a hot shower only to be back on the streets, Itzen said.
“The jail is crowded to the point where the sheriff has had to release prisoners from time to time,” Itzen said. “He’s had to declare an emergency from time to time. This scenario is not the best way to go.”
He added that he didn’t know how well such an ordinance would work.
“But as long as folks continue to give them money, they’ll continue to be there,” he said. “It (an ordinance) may help, a little bit. Times are tough today.”
And enforcement, as is often the case, would still be a challenge.
“If you adopt an ordinance, it’s pretty good to enforce it,” Herbage said. “It’s not very good to just decorate your walls with.”
Herbage hopes to have more information for the board for its Nov. 7 meeting.