Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Out of Issaquah
It’s Tuesday, and a crew from KOMO just left the Real Change office after interviewing me for a piece scheduled for 6 pm tonight. Issaquah has followed suit after Tacoma and Auburn in enacting new panhandling laws to place “time, place, and manner” restrictions on public solicitation. Similar legislation is under consideration in Federal Way, and Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr has stated that our own city should perhaps adopt some aspects of the Tacoma approach. Carr seems to like the sunset to sunrise restrictions in particular.
The trend toward the criminalization of survival activity, whether it be panhandling or camping, is something that should concern us all. Issaquah’s legislation prevents solicitation within 300 feet of any freeway on or off ramp, as well as at thirteen other specific intersections. Tacoma’s is so comprehensive as to effectively ban panhandling altogether.
There is an inevitable logic to the cascading adoption of anti-panhandling ordinances by communities throughout the region. When a city like Tacoma puts the squeeze on panhandling, the need doesn’t go way. It just resurfaces someplace else. Nobody, apparently, wants to be that place.
As the options of the very poor become more circumscribed, the desperately poor will be driven further and further from where services are available, and possibly into more heavily criminalized aspects of the underground economy. These include shoplifting, prostitution, drug sales, and theft. This is in no one’s interest.
It’s time for communities to consider how they might more aggressively act to address the root causes of poverty, under-employment, and declining housing affordability. When we simply outlaw that which makes us uncomfortable, nobody wins.