Central Point considers panhandling ordinance

CENTRAL POINT — Both panhandlers and motorists who attempt to exchange money, food or other items while occupying portions of the highways running through town soon could face $75 fines.

The City Council will consider final approval tonight of an ordinance prohibiting transfer of property between pedestrians and occupants of motor vehicles.

Central Point police officials said the proposed ordinance was in response to citizen complaints about an increase in transients who panhandle at the entrance into town from Interstate 5.

Aside from projecting a negative image, the panhandlers cause safety and environmental concerns, said police Capt. Kris Allison.

The city had considered similar ordinances in recent years but tabled discussions as nearby cities, including Medford, grappled with language that would address safety concerns while not infringing on civil liberties.

"Our focus, what really prompted this, was that we had a lot of citizens calling in and complaining," said Allison.

"We're trying to go on the angle of public safety. We have received calls about people in the roadway and near-misses regarding accidents."

Debbie Saxbury, a longtime resident and recent advocate for the area's homeless, concurred with city police about concerns for safety and the city's image tied to transients congregating at the off-ramps into town.

Saxbury said many of the transients causing problems weren't part of the city's small population of homeless but that local homeless people had been warned of the proposed ordinance.

"There were a lot of them that were hanging out taking up both corners and it looked really bad," Saxbury said.

Saxbury said she did have concerns about how the ordinance would affect transients with pets.

"The one thing that bothers me the most is people giving them dog food aren't going to be able to do that anymore or they'll get a ticket," she said. "That's one of the things that is really going to freak them out.

"Some of them get money from food stamps and they all share so they can eat, but they can't buy dog food with food stamps."

Saxbury suggested residents who want to help the homeless or their pets donate to local churches with homeless outreach programs.

Allison said city police would not begin issuing citations immediately.

If approved tonight by the council, the ordinance would take effect around April 20.

"After the second reading, it takes 30 days for an ordinance to go into effect, then we would have something like a 90-day period of education," Allison said.

"We would print out warnings, do education and put up signs in the area. If we get to a point where people have already been warned, we can issue a fine, not to exceed $75."

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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