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Oak Harbor City Council adopts ban on aggressive panhandling

Oak Harbor resident Robert Brothers, at right, hugs panhandler Jeff Pangburn after handing him packages of deli food. Pangburn claims he would never aggressively panhandle, but that the food and money from strangers help him survive living homeless on Whidbey Island. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Robert Brothers, at right, hugs panhandler Jeff Pangburn after handing him packages of deli food. Pangburn claims he would never aggressively panhandle, but that the food and money from strangers help him survive living homeless on Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

It’s now a crime to aggressively panhandle in Oak Harbor.

Members of the City Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday night that makes it a misdemeanor to obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic or to aggressively panhandle, which is defined as begging “with the intent to intimidate or coerce another person into giving money or goods.”

Police Chief Ed Green said the increase in panhandling in the city compelled him to look at the issue. He said he’s heard from officers that some panhandlers can be confrontational when asking for money.

He said the panhandlers are smart and careful not to “cross the line” into robbery, but the ordinance will make the lines clearer for officers to enforce.

Green and several council members said they were especially concerned about panhandling at the entrance to the Safeway parking lot on Barrington Drive. The intersection is already a very busy and they don’t want panhandlers to exacerbate the problem.

Green said panhandlers will still be able to stand at the site, as long as it’s public property.

But in addition to adopting the ordinance, the city will be placing up signs to dissuade people from giving to panhandlers. The signs will say, “Keep the change. Don’t support panhandling. Give to a local charity.”

A couple of council members said they were especially pleased with the signs. Councilwoman Tara Hizon said she loved the signs.

“It’s really incredible what our Help House can do with $5,” she said. “I mean, if you are gonna to give out that $5, bless you for doing so, if you give it to the Help House they can stretch it so far and feed an entire family.”

 

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