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Panhandling City Ordinance

Published: July 26, 2005, 9:15PM

At just about any intersection of the city, you'll find people asking for a handout or maybe offering to clean your windshield for a buck.

City ordinance makes that illegal in some parts of Austin, but a local judge now says that law is unconstitutional.

They seem to be everywhere -- people at intersections, asking for a helping hand. City ordinance makes roadside soliciting in certain parts of the city illegal, and two years ago, John Curran got a ticket for it, but he says he wasn't soliciting.

"What I do with my sign, I don't do anything. I just walk past the cars, you know? And if they want to come with something, that's fine," Curran said.

A judge agrees saying the law restricts free speech.

"People by the street or on the sidewalk saying, 'Give money if you can,'" Wayne Krause with the Texas Civil Rights Project said. "We're not talking about homeless people attacking people. We're not talking about homeless people doing anything except maybe making people feel a little uncomfortable."

The city contends it's a safety issue.

"We believe the judge was incorrect. We believe safety in roadways is an issue that is fairly well-settled in the law," Austin City Attorney David Smith said.

Motorists have mixed feelings.

"It's probably in the best interest for the individuals if they find something else to do besides panhandle," motorist Diane Luber said.

"A lot of these people are really hungry. Got to eat someway," motorist Robert Foto said.

If you do the math, 1,000 cars an hour and one in 20 gives you a dollar, you're making $50 an hour, tax-free.

Some say they have a right to make money any way they can like Robert Tetley who cleans windshields.

"If they want to pay me, I would rather they tip me because they want to because I did a good job," Tetley said.

The issue may not be settled.

"We have an option of appeal, and I think that's what we'll probably do," Krause said. "It's important not to attack the symptoms, but to get at the roots of the problem of homelessness."

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