Will Work for Quote

Tim Burgess wants to curb pushy panhandlers—but doesn’t want to comment.

By Karen Quinn October 21, 2009 Published in the November 2009 issue of Seattle Met

Walk any downtown street—First Ave, say—and chances are you’ll be hit up for a handout. That may change. City councilmember Tim Burgess is proposing legislation to quiet Seattle’s most persistent penny petitioners. Burgess reports that his office fields up to 20 panhandling complaints a week, with some instances involving spare-changers demanding—not asking for—money or grabbing the arms of passersby as they plead their case.

A measure Burgess will present to the city council this month, aimed at “aggressive panhandling,” would prohibit begging after dark, near ATMs and highway ramps, and when people are getting in or out of cars. If Burgess wins out, Seattle will join the ranks of U.S. cities that have banned or restricted panhandling in the past 10 years, including Tacoma, Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Santa Barbara.

We asked the councilmember to elaborate and we might as well have been squatting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign that read “Spare a quote?” He declined to comment. Apparently not wanting to further ignite the ire of homeless advocates like Real Change executive director Tim Harris, who told us such measures lead to the “criminalization of poverty,” the councilmember went mute shortly after announcing the proposed legislation.

Burgess’s fellow councilmembers have gone similarly stingy on sound bites. Of the nine councilmembers, only two would give us a definitive answer (they both support Burgess’s proposal). A draft of the measure will be released to the public in late November. When it is, expect plenty of comments.

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