Panhandling needs more enforcement in Dallas, some council members say

Several members of Dallas City Council say they want increased enforcement from panhandlers and cite safety and litter pollution concerns as a result of these activities.

Councilor Lee Kleinman asked District Attorney Chris Caso during a briefing Wednesday to prepare for consideration several possible proposals to amend the Dallas Code, including one that would allow city marshals to issue citations and another that bans all forms of personal solicitation .

The request came during a presentation by the council on panhandling in Dallas. The subject was also raised for discussion during the budget negotiations in August.

City officials responded to more than 500 complaints related to money requests last year. Slightly more than half came from the four northern boroughs, represented by council members Kleinman, Cara Mendelsohn, Jennifer Staubach Gates and David Blewett.

City data showed that Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, North Central Expressway, and Royal Lane, and Samuel Boulevard and Jim Miller Road were among the areas that received the most complaints over the past year.

The city’s public relations workers found that most of the people who deal with Panhandle are homeless. They can make anywhere from $ 20 to $ 300 a day and ask for money from drivers and use it mostly for groceries or shelter. Mental health could play a role if they are unable to get a job or use social services, according to city officials.

But some council members painted a different picture.

Panhandling in north Dallas has “become unproblematic,” Kleinman said, adding that he was fed up with residents in his district sending him pictures of trash, defecation and urine in street medians asking for cash.

He said he had received complaints about aggressive scammers threatening people and obstructing traffic without the police looking. He said that he believed that too many people were avoiding alternatives such as city aid in order to get shelter and other services.

“I’m sorry, but there is only one limit to the compassionate people of North Dallas,” said Kleinman, who represents North Dallas. “It’s partly compassion that makes these areas profitable because people want to help people, but we have to prevail because the compassion side just doesn’t work.”

Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, said she agreed with Kleinman that more enforcement was needed.

She described the idea of ​​people taking care of basic resources like food and water as “fantasy land”. Vans took people to the panhandle in areas and they got lunch too, she said. And some people asked for money while they were staying in motels.

She suggested that more fences and improved lighting in high-traffic areas could help keep people from congregating. She also mentioned the city considering the limit on hours and intersections where people like in Plano and Richardson can panhandle.

“In my district, scammers have told me how much they make. It’s more than you make as a councilor,” she said. “And it is the fault of everyone who gives money, we keep them here. If no one gave them money, they would go away. “

Dallas City Council members earn around $ 60,000 a year. City officials said public relations workers found four homeless people who pooled the money they received to get a motel room for the night.

Caso presented several options for the Council to consider, including prohibiting giving people money; Removing benches and other public facilities to discourage the congregation; Adding signs explaining all city laws that could be violated by panhandling on the street; and give people vouchers that can be redeemed for food, lodging, transportation, and other amenities.

The Supreme Court and the lower courts have repeatedly taken action against the panhandling and ruled that it is protected by the first amendment, Caso said. He said Dallas could enforce existing city and state laws, amend city bylaws, or pass new ones that don’t specifically target the treatment of the homeless.

Police chief Eddie Garcia, who started on Wednesday, said the department’s data found no link between panhandling and fatal accidents or violent crimes. He said even with stricter regulations, responding to panhandling-related complaints was a low priority for officials. Violent and property crimes would come first, he said.

“In cases where call volume is increasing, this would be a call that would take officers a while to make,” Garcia said, adding that he was open to various ideas on how to enforce it.

On his first day at work, new Dallas boss Eddie Garcia (center) speaks to the Dallas City Council about panhandling when Dr. Alexander Eastman, lieutenant and medical officer of the Dallas Police SWAT team, and deputy chief Lonzo Anderson, right, listen in Dallas on Wednesday afternoon, February 3, 2021.

Councilor Adam Bazaldua said he understood the frustration of some of his colleagues. But he warned against bringing everyone who does panhandles under the same roof.

“I don’t think it’s safe to say that every single person on the roadside who asks for a dime is part of organized crime,” he said. Bazaldua, who represents parts of east and south Dallas, cited street races, among other things, on issues of quality of life that he believes should have a higher priority.

Councilor Casey Thomas said the city needs to find various solutions to clarify why people get into trouble. In the southern part of the city, this problem is a “different reality” than that described by Mendelsohn, he said.

“We can’t take a cookie cutter approach to this,” said Thomas, who represents southwest Dallas.

It was unclear on Wednesday when the subject would be before the Council again.

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