The issue of putting up a series of signs warning against panhandling in the city of Nampa arose during a Nampa City Council meeting last week.
City Council members voted unanimously in October to authorize the police department to spend up to $1,800 on 10 anti-panhandling signs.
Last week, a couple of concerned citizens raised the issue during an open forum at the city council meeting.
We’re glad that the issue came up again, and we feel the issue deserves more discussion.
We’re not necessarily against the signs, per se, which say “No panhandling/ No soliciting without a permit/ Want to help? Please donate to local charities” and then the city code pertaining to panhandling.
The code is under the definition for disorderly conduct: “It shall be unlawful for anyone to engage in disorderly conduct within the City limits of Nampa. Every person is guilty of disorderly conduct when he: Accosts other persons in any public place or in any place open to the public for the purpose of begging or soliciting alms.”
So if someone is standing on a street corner with a sign asking for money, they’re not really “accosting” other people. If someone simply asks someone else for money, is that “accosting”? And even if so, do we want police officers taken away from other crimes and calls for service so they can watch out for accosters?
We don’t want to nitpick the law or the signs, and in many respects we agree with the sentiment behind it. We don’t want to see every corner in Nampa taken up by someone begging for money, and we don’t want residents avoiding downtown Nampa because they’ll get stopped every block by someone asking for a buck. Although the stories are out there, we know that not everyone asking for money is making $200 a day and getting into their Mercedes while texting on their iPhone X. And we know that not everyone asking for money is going to use the money to buy drugs or alcohol. Problem is, we don’t really who is and who isn’t.
We believe that we should be generous with our struggling neighbors who are having a hard time just providing for the basics in life of food, clothing and shelter. So we are glad to see a part of the sign that encourages people to donate to local charities.
But the signs, to us, have a couple of flaws. One, it seems like it’s a solution in search of a problem. Do we really have a panhandling problem that needs to be solved right now? Let’s keep in mind, too, that the mere presence of these signs, with the big red prohibition sign, with a line through a circle, lets visitors know there’s a problem and sends a bad signal. The signs might be more of an eyesore than the actual problem it’s trying to address.
Second, if a resident wants to give someone money, we don’t think the government should be telling us how to spend our money as we see fit.
Third, the signs lack imagination and creativity. They’re old-school and boring and, we suspect, somewhat ineffective.
Why can’t the city of Nampa be more imaginative when it comes to solving a perceived problem? Why not partner with local charities, like the Salvation Army and local food pantries to create a system of vouchers that are available at City Hall and on every countertop in every business in Nampa that residents can purchase. The money would go to the charities, and residents could then hand out the vouchers if they are asked for money.
This would weed out those people who just want money for drugs and alcohol and would directly benefit those who are in need.
If there truly is a problem with panhandling in the city of Nampa, surely our city leaders can come up more creative solutions than spending a couple thousand bucks on some gaudy signs.