A homeless woman identified only as Nancy wipes away tears Wednesday while describing how panhandling is her only means of support. Soliciting at the corner of North Pacific and Crater Lake highways, Nancy says she has never been abusive when asking for money.

City considers controlling panhandlers

MEDFORD — With a bag at her feet and a dusty gray hat covering her shoulder-length white hair, Nancy stood at the intersection of Crater Lake and North Pacific highways hoping for help.

In her hands rested a sign that read, "Homeless, need help, god bless you."

Panhandling may become more difficult as the City Council considers a proposal by Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen to limit some forms of solicitation. The proposal prohibits abusive or aggressive solicitation, defined as "continuing to solicit once the person being solicited has declined the request," among other criteria.

Nancy, who declined to give her last name, said she's doesn't aggressively beg, and she doesn't solicit by choice.

"I don't agree with (the proposal)," Nancy said as she fought back tears. "I don't know what I'll do."

Schoen said he is unsure of the exact number of complaints the city has received about abusive solicitation. But he said there has been enough concern to warrant discussion about the problem and possible solutions.

The City Council will discuss the proposal during its study session at noon today.

"I'm going to bring some information to the council's attention," Schoen said. "I'd like the council to explore the possibility of restricting it in some places."

Currently, Eagle Point is the only city in the Rogue Valley with a population of more than 8,000 that specifically prohibits panhandling on public property. Its ordinance states, "It shall be unlawful for any person to beg or solicit alms or other gratuities upon the streets or in any public place."

One of the potential pitfalls of limiting panhandling is that it could be an infringement on the public's right to free speech.

"We've looked at a number of ordinances around the country to find some that have been challenged and then stood up in court," Schoen said.

Other proposed regulations could make it against the law for strangers to block the passage of a person solicited or to use abusive language during an approach.

Some of the citizens' complaints centered on solicitors who seek money at traffic lights and hold up the cars behind them because someone stops to make a donation.

"The light turns green and no one can move," Schoen said.

City Councilman John Statler, who was homeless 18 years ago, said ordinances already exist to prohibit aggressive behavior and that he doesn't see panhandling as a major issue.

"If someone is panhandling in the mall's parking lot and the mall doesn't want them to be there they call the cops and the person is told to leave," Statler said. "We already have an ordinance for that."

Schoen said he would like all of the ordinances to be clear and under one umbrella.

Robert Taylor, 28, who was walking past the intersection where Nancy was holding her sign, said he has gotten to know Nancy and some of the men she travels with. He added that they have not been aggressive.

He worries that more stringent panhandling regulations could make it difficult for homeless people to get by.

"Some of these people can't work or anything else because they're battling alcohol withdrawals," Taylor said. "They should put them in a shelter."

Taylor, who works for Eric Artner Construction Inc., said he doesn't mind helping out when people ask him for money.

"I'm usually pretty generous if I've got it on me," he said.

Nancy, who has lived on the streets of Medford since she moved to the city last October, said she felt bad for citizens who were made uncomfortable by solicitors.

"I'm sorry if somebody was abusive," she said.

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail

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