El Paso City Council will soon discuss a crackdown on "aggressive" beggars. There's already a fine for begging near traffic, but the city wants to make it illegal to beg for money in such a way that people feel intimidated or threatened, especially near certain locations.
“We don't have enough money to live,” said a panhandler named Mary.
Mary said she panhandles from 5:3 a.m. in to 8:30p.m. at night and she said it helps her get by day-to-day.
“They've always harassed us for doing it,” Mary said.
A new ordinance would target solicitors deemed aggressive, or within 25 feet of a bank, parking meter or restaurant.
“I have heard of individuals who have felt unsafe when they have been solicited and the person asking for money turned a little aggressive,” said Downtown Management District Executive Director Veronica Soto.
Soto said panhandlers make people feel unsafe and discourage them from shopping. She said they also impede the council's beautification efforts downtown. Austin, Houston and San Antonio already have aggressive solicitation laws. but not everyone supports them.
"You make all of downtown hostile to the homeless and they're going to have to go somewhere,” said Everett Saucedo, homeless advocate and attorney for the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc.
The ordinance could affect anyone soliciting money, including church and school fundraisers, but homeless advocates are concerned .
“So what you basically have is where a person basically asks another, 'Buddy, can you spare a dime?' within 24 feet and 6 inches of a public parking meter,” Saucedo said. “That person has now completed a class C misdemeanor.”
Saucedo said the law criminalizes the symptoms of homelessness without addressing the causes.
“It doesn't seem like its going to be much different, except the fines will be higher, more community service, probably jail time,” Mary said.
The City Council is set to discuss the ordinance on Aug. 30 at a public meeting. If they chose to move forward with the law, it would be enforced by El Paso police who would have to witness the aggressive behavior.