Dayton Panhandlers Suffer Scarlet Letter

by Ivan Sheehan

      For panhandlers in Dayton Ohio, the city is placing “scarlet letters” around their necks. In December 2000, Dayton City Officials passed one of the nation’s strictest panhandling ordinances.

      “We have not seen any benefits of the law,” says Jessica Procaccini, program director at The Other Place, a homeless service provider in Dayton. “But then again, we have not seen any negative effects either.”

      Under Section 137.20 of the ordinance, which outlines registration, “no person shall panhandle without a registration issued by the Chief of Police.” The registration includes the name and photograph of the individual to whom it is being issued, and anyone who has been registered must display the cumbersome 4” by 6” registration card “in plain view on the front of that person at all times while panhandling.” Applicants for the pass are given a 10-day temporary permit while the chief approves the regular registration, which is valid for one year after the date of issuance.

    According to the ordinance, no person shall “panhandle after sunset or before sunrise,” (Section 137.15). For the official sunrise and sunset times, panhandlers should follow the times published by the United States Naval Observatory.

      Section 137.16 designates unacceptable locations for panhandling. Any bus stop, public transportation vehicle or facility, in addition to sports stadiums, halls and theaters operated by a political subdivision, and private property is off-limits. No panhandling is permitted within 20 feet of the entrance or exit of most financial institutions including banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions and automated teller machines during operational hours.

     Panhandlers must abide by Dayton’s prescribed manner of panhandling (Section 137.17). These guidelines include not coming within three feet of a person solicited after that person has indicated that he or she does not wish to make a donation, and avoiding unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterances, gestures, or displays.

    The ordinance also prohibits panhandling in a group of two or more persons; or engaging in “communication which a reasonable person in the situation of the person solicited would perceive to be a threat.”

        The ordinance also includes provisions for false or misleading solicitation (Section 137.18), which states, “no person shall knowingly make a false or misleading representation in the course of soliciting a donation;” or use “any makeup or device to simulate any deformity; or stating that the solicitor is homeless, when he is not.”

       The “homeless impostor” provision is not completely unfounded according to Procaccini.

     “Most people who are homeless do not actually panhandle,” she says. “Not all panhandlers are homeless and not all homeless panhandle.”

      Penalties for failing to adhere to the ordinance range from fourth-degree misdemeanors for most cases to a minor misdemeanor for certain instances. Any person who is found guilty of ordinance violations is subject to fines, possible jail time and loss of panhandling registration.

     But Procaccini does believe the ordinance has, in some ways, improved the relationship between officers and panhandlers.

    “If anything, I think it has made officers more aware and sensitive to the issue,” she says. “We have not heard of anyone that has been prosecuted to the extent of paying fines.”

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #70, May 2005. All Rights Reserved