What should be done with panhandlers? Mayor John Hickenlooper has made ending homelessness within 10 years a cornerstone of his administration. One component of that plan is to ban panhandling in the city.

The Denver City Council will vote on three proposals Monday night which the ACLU deems discriminatory. If you’d like to attend the meeting, it will be at 5:30 p.m. in Room 450 of the City and County Building, 1437 Bannock St.

The ACLU of Colorado is blasting three proposed laws that would restrict panhandling in Denver, saying they target the poor and invite discrimination. “Denver should not pass laws that punish people just for doing the things that poor people have to do to survive,” said Mark Silverstein, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal director in Denver.

“The ACLU does not oppose carefully drafted ordinances that punish threats, menacing, intimidation, obstruction or trespass,” he said. “We do oppose laws that are recipes for discriminatory selective enforcement designed to move poor people out of a particular area just because of their appearance.”

The proposals do not call for arresting panhandlers, at least not at the outset. Police will be instructed to ask them if they are homeless, and if they are, to provide them with information about outreach services. The specifics of the proposals are:

  • “The first proposed ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, would outlaw sitting or lying in the public right of way in downtown Denver from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Exceptions to the new law include medical emergencies, parades, festivals and at transit stops not along the 16th Street Mall. Disabled people who use a wheelchair, walker or similar device also would be exempt.”
  • “The second proposed ordinance would forbid solicitation citywide of any kind of traffic lane.”
  • “The third proposed ordinance would outlaw panhandling citywide within 20 feet of sidewalk eateries. “

These proposals strike me as far preferable to those that would arrest panhandlers at the outset. But I worry about the mentally ill panhandlers. Is providing them with information about services enough? What if they are too disturbed to understand the information or figure out a way to connect with the service providers? Is there a way to bring the providers to them?