It’s been over a year since we first sat down with city prosecutor, Matt Kuhse (koozie) to ask about the anti-panhandling ordinance he was working on, and we’ve been making fun of it ever since. Including using it as a feature in our weekly cartoon “Arbitrary” (see below).
Well the laughs are over. Tuesday the city council will be hearing public comments on a new law targeting homeless people.
Now it’s no surprise that this law will have absolutely no impact on panhandling, but it does have teeth. The proposed law bans people using the medians, at certain intersections, for any purpose other than to cross the street. The penalty for disobeying is a fine up to $500, 6 months in jail, or both.
Great way to show the homeless people in Omaha that we care.
Mimicking a Colorado Springs ordinance and thinly veiled as a public safety concern, the city has openly admitted that it is an attempt to address the panhandling pandemic that has plagued our streets in recent years.
The mayor offered a special traffic study she had done, using traffic data collected from 2008 – 2014 (for reasons passing understanding). The key thing illustrated in that study was that 74% of pedestrian related accidents occur near intersections, where pedestrian cross the street; to which our first reaction was (No sh**, Sherlock). But as it turns out, this statistic isn’t even accurate. According to the state, only 10% of pedestrian fatalities occur at intersections and none of the pedestrian fatalities in recent years has been due to the medians being used in this manner. The state’s data instead suggests that the key factors are poor lighting and public intoxication. Although we’d be willing to bet that distracted driving plays a role as well.
In any case it’s fairly obvious that this ordinance will have little-to-no impact on public safety. Considering it only bans the use of medians and only at certain intersections, it’s fair to expect that it will have little-to-no impact on panhandling as well.
The only thing this ordinance can hope to accomplish is to further alienate Omaha’s poorest citizens.
The reason the act of panhandling is so prevalent is because it works. The people of Omaha are charitable. Many do stop and give a dollar, some spare change or a bottle of water. And this is on top of the tens of millions of dollars that are donated locally to combat homelessness.
When we entrusted the city officials to combat this problem, who would have ever believed that this would be their proposed solution.
Today our paper submitted an alternative option to the city council. Working alongside organizations like United Way and MACCH to create an outreach program to put the resources that are available in front of the panhandlers.
That is how we combat homelessness in the Midwest, and let Colorado Springs copy us.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
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