A proposed panhandling law will be considered by officials in Daly City next month, due to a reported rise in police calls for service involving homeless people over the last two years.
Scheduled for City Council review on Sept. 14, the police department-backed proposal would place limits on where and how people would be allowed to panhandle. Specific details on how the proposed ordinance would limit panhandling have not yet been made public, and police representatives did not respond to interview requests.
According to a city staff report, the uptick in police calls has come not only from residents and business owners, but also city employees. The report claims that, in many cases, police have few options when responding to such calls.
In addition to giving police more authority to deal with aggressive panhandlers, the report claims the ordinance would create a safer environment for homeless people and the residents and business owners who interact with them.
Councilman Sal Torres said safety was a concern when he recently observed a mother panhandling with her two children at Westlake Shopping Center. According to Torres, the woman was standing with a sign on the narrow, raised center divide between car lanes at the mall’s main entrance on John Daly Boulevard.
Torres said he asked the woman to move because it was not safe for her small children to be so close to traffic.
Although Torres has not yet taken a position on the proposed ordinance, he said there is a need to keep panhandlers out of unsafe situations.
Some residents on social media have complained about panhandling in Daly City, Pacifica and Millbrae, and have questioned whether certain people have a legitimate need to panhandle.
Torres angrily decried such speculation. “I’m not condoning what they’re doing, but if I was ever in a situation where my only option was to panhandle, I would hope that people would not speculate about me being a scammer,” Torres said.
“Aggressive panhandling” is often loosely defined, according to Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach, who said anti-panhandling laws can serve to “sweep the presence of poverty under the rug” without providing meaningful help.
Torres echoed Friedenbach’s sentiment, saying the visible presence of panhandlers should prompt questions about whether individuals and the community at large are doing enough to help.
“If you’re passing judgment on homeless people, ask yourself, when was the last time you donated food to a pantry or money to a charity or volunteered at a clinic or shelter?” Torres said.
Homeless people are further marginalized when they are cited for violating solicitation ordinances, Friedenbach claimed, because they are then saddled with fines they can’t pay and court dates for which they might be unable to appear.
Unpaid fines lead to arrest warrants, which make it impossible to obtain the public housing or other public benefits that can lift a person out of homelessness, Friedenbach added.
Samaritan House CEO Bart Charlow said he did not have specific data on homelessness rates in Daly City, but noted that rapidly increasing rents are creating an epidemic of homelessness throughout the county.