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Tacoma quashes panhandling

December 6, 2007

Tacoma, Washington has boldly gone where evidently no other American city has gone before, and virtually eliminated panhandling from most traditional public forums. Under the sweeping ordinance passed by the City Council this fall, panhandling is banned within 15 feet of ATMs, bus stops, parked cars, pay phones, gas stations, car washes, and outdoor cafes within the city. Panhandling is specifically illegal on buses, at intersections, and on freeway ramps;  nor is it permitted to be any way directed toward traffic. If panhandlers can still find somewhere to ply their noxious trade, they can’t beg anywhere in the city between dusk and dawn.

Hurray. In my fourteen years here, this is the first time I can recall the Tacoma City Council doing something proactively constructive to promote basic civility. I am so tired of moronic narratives of dead cars that just need a few gallons of gas, a job interview but no bus fare, or simply someone blowing “Spare change, Miss?” in my direction on a waff of cigarette breath. High time, City of Destiny.

Tacoma passed the ordinance in response to “numerous complaints from citizens, businesses, community organizations, and others regarding serious public harms caused by panhandlers” (from the Ordinance, linked at the end of this post).  Good. That’s the City Council’s job.

I don’t find Tacoma’s law in the least uncharitable. According to this article by Seattle reporter C. R. Douglas, panhandlers are murmuring that if they can’t beg, they’ll just start breaking into cars. They murmur that people should have the choice to give them money.

Huh? If I don’t give you money you’re going to break into my car, and you’re calling that a choice?

Our “choice” has already been pre-empted by taxation for welfare schemes, public mental health and drug rehab programs, and the toll of crime.

You can download Tacoma’s vanguard ordinance here; the text includes panhandling ordinances in effect in other cities  for comparison.

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4 Comments
  1. December 7, 2007 6:05 am

    “Our “choice” has already been pre-empted by taxation for welfare schemes, public mental health and drug rehab programs, and the toll of crime.”

    :-/ One of my first wake-up calls from socialism to the positive and negative meaning of Christian charity. I didn’t realize what a problem it was to transfer the stories of Jesus helping those out on the street from that day straight into ours. Mike has told me I should be glad I didn’t end up a sermon illustration (example of the fatally stupid liberal interpretation of our duty: be kind to everyone except yourself—abandon common sense in favor of the common good!). In my relatively conservative Baptist youth group, we were made to feel guilty that we weren’t courageous enough to become voluntarily homeless, like at least one man we knew. Ascetism = godly and all that. I can’t believe I came out of that alive and for the most part mentally intact. Anyway, I’m glad your city has the sense to take such a step.

  2. December 7, 2007 7:34 am

    Thank you, as always, for your candor coming from hard-gained personal experience, PK. I’m glad you made it out alive, too! :) Your early plight was common; for so many, the first sighting of third-world or local poverty incites some kind of personal riot of divestment for some ill-conceived “justice.”

    Pastor Lyon once preached, quoting approximately, “It is a man’s responsibility to take care of his family, the church’s to take care of the church, and the world’s to take care of the world.” Jesus commanded His disciples to “feed MY sheep.” The Church takes care of the church. The goats graze on public sympathy. In our day, public sympathy is simply institutionalized into government programs and compulsory giving.

  3. September 23, 2013 12:35 am

    Hello!
    I am currently a student at the University of Washington Tacoma Campus and am wondering if this ordinance is still current in 2013. O:
    I can’t help but want to spare change to every person who comes up to me asking for money, but considering that I’m a broke college student who has to save up to pay for all the college expenses…I just can’t do it on an everyday basis. :/
    If you are up to date with what was passed in 2007, it would be sincerely awesome if you could give me any info detailing if the ordinance is still the same in 2013. O:

  4. September 23, 2013 8:19 am

    Hi Michelle,

    I relocated east of the Cascades in 2010 and haven’t kept up with the Tacoma ordinance. Most panhandlers never kept up with the enactment of the ordinance, either!

    Can you discipline yourself to limit your giving? We shouldn’t require the force of law to simply say, “No.” You have a charitable heart, but you also have limited resources to conserve, so that you can complete your education and perhaps help others in effectual ways that won’t be spent out within the hour. . . .

    Godspeed with your education and your future work!

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