Chad Franck panhandles Friday near the Interstate 5 off-ramp in Central Point, hoping to raise money to buy gas. In about a month, panhandling will essentially become illegal on the city's roadways. - Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

A hazard or just seeking help?

CENTRAL POINT — Thursday evening, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that essentially will prohibit panhandling on city roadways.

Less than a day later, every intersection and off-ramp leading into town was inhabited by transients and stranded travelers with their dogs, duffel bags and cardboard signs.

A woman and man with a dog sat just beyond the southbound Interstate 5 entrance into town while another man on the northbound off-ramp displayed a sign requesting help with gas money to "get home."

The new law, specifically prohibiting "transfer of property" between motorists and pedestrians on city roadways, takes effect 30 days from Thursday.

The stranded motorist, Chad Franck of Vancouver, Wash., parked his old RV at the Pilot truck stop and was offered time to "fly a sign" at the freeway spot by local transients, who were willing to give up their usual post for a few hours.

Franck said local homeless people told him about the new ordinance when he arrived in town Thursday night.

Franck admits to "gas jugging" — asking for motorists fueling up to dispense a few gallons into his own can.

But Oregon's prohibition on self-service forced him to scrounge for gas money.

"Can't do that in Oregon because the attendants do the pumping and you can't stand around the station all day," Franck said. "But it got me from El Paso to here."

Once the ordinance takes effect, Central Point Police Capt. Kris Allison said, the city would initially attempt to educate the public, rather than immediately issue citations. After 90 days, both pedestrians and motorists who participate in "transfer of property" would face $75 fines.

Allison said the ordinance was initiated by residents' complaints about seeing panhandlers at every entrance into town.

The comments included safety concerns but also addressed the negative image cast on the city as well as trash and debris accumulating where panhandlers were spending the most time.

Driver Ryan Martin, a Portland resident, said the city was right to eliminate begging at the city's entryways.

"I agree with it completely," Martin said. "I never give any money to them because I think if they're capable of standing out there and working then they should go work at a gas station or somewhere like the rest of us."

A woman who identified herself only as Eryn relaxed on a grassy spot near the Pilot truck stop as she took a break during a Greyhound bus trip.

"I think it is a safety hazard," she said. "I'm from up in Portland and we have people standing on little skinny slivers of concrete in the median and on freeway on-ramps."

"I'm surprised people haven't been run over. So, from that standpoint, I think it's good to restrict where they can do it. The other fundamental issue, however, is that we have huge poverty in this country and in this region and we have to address it from that angle and make sure people have a way to get the things that they need."

Brownsville resident Steve Chambers, who made a pit stop at the Pilot station Friday felt that motorists should have the right to decide whether to help.

"I think it should be somebody's option if they want to help someone," Chambers said.

"I don't normally give them anything, but if I choose to, I should have that opportunity."

Franck said the city's decision to prohibit passive panhandling at intersections would likely result in more transients and panhandlers approaching shoppers in nearby retail centers, a concern several city council members voiced Thursday.

Allison said such concerns would be addressed on a case-by-case basis, using other city laws.

Franck said he hoped to get home to Vancouver soon and was grateful for what help he had received.

"Most places have laws like that now, so I don't think it's a surprise," he said. "Just makes life a little harder. They're obviously laws not designed to hurt the driver, but the person who needs the help.

"As far as public safety, people are smart; they know how cars work. No one is getting hurt. They just don't want people out here asking for help. It's actually sad because what a beautiful thing to give someone a choice whether or not they want to help someone out."

He added, "No one wants to sit on a corner begging for help. I'm tired of asking people for stuff. I just want to go home."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at

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