Three Akron men who regularly panhandle at busy Fairlawn intersections have no complaints about pending city council legislation that would require them to register for licenses. But one man questions whether the ACLU of Ohio will challenge the second piece of legislation dictating where panhandlers
Leonard Wilson, 59, says he is permanently disabled and struggling to support his family of four on Social Security benefits supplemented by donations from strangers. The former landscaper is well-versed in the finer points of panhandling laws in a number of area cities, which is why he’s familiar with the ACLU’s challenges to laws that unfairly restrict the activity.
Wilson — who wears his Akron panhandler’s ID badge while soliciting in Fairlawn — watched closely last summer as Akron City Council considered legislation that would make its long-standing panhandler regulations even more stringent.
“It’s my First Amendment right to stand here on public property,” Wilson said while holding a sign at the Cleveland-Massillon Road entrance to the Rosemont Commons shopping plaza. “If this passes, the ACLU could threaten to sue like they did in Akron last year.”
Akron’s proposed ordinance — which has yet to be approved — would prohibit panhandlers from standing within 100 feet of intersections. Fairlawn’s proposed ordinance says panhandlers cannot stand within 25 feet of:
- Any intersecting streets or crosswalks within the city.
- Any street or driveway entrance to or exit from shopping plazas, shopping districts, commercial or business establishments, churches or public or private schools.
- Any bus stop.
- Any ATM or bank.
- Any sidewalk cafe or outdoor cafe restaurant
- Any driveway entrance to or exits from an automobile service station
Wilson paced out several feet along the sidewalk to get an idea of where 25 feet would land him and pointed out it would be “in the middle of nowhere” with cars zipping by at 40-some miles per hour.
“I know this is not a concrete, legitimate job with a paycheck, but it’s how I feed my kids,” the once-homeless Wilson said. “The time I put in out here panhandling helped me support myself to get to a point where I could get my family back together again.”
Akron resident Wendell Elie, 46, also was wearing his Akron panhandler’s ID badge while working the northeast corner of Cleveland-Massillon Road and West Market Street, outside . Elie wasn’t aware of Fairlawn’s proposed law, but said he would gladly register for a license.
Told about the 25-foot ban from intersections, however, the homeless Elie said he is concerned about how he’d get money to eat and rent rooms from time to time. Donations, he said, come from motorists stopped at traffic lights. If he wasn’t stationed at a corner, donations wouldn’t happen.
“I want a job. I don’t want to do this forever,” said the former restaurant kitchen prep worker who’s been unemployed since 2009. Money from strangers, he said, is what keeps him going.
Stationed at the West Market entrance to Rosemont Commons was an Akron man named Junior, 45, who said panhandling “is my job. Sometimes I make twenty-five dollars, sometimes two-fifty ... you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Junior said he follows the panhandler code of conduct: no littering, stay on public property, stay out of roadways and more. Instead of creating more rules for panhandlers, he said, Fairlawn officials should do something about the mental and physical abuse to which panhandlers are subjected.
“People cuss us out, call us (racial slurs) and throw stuff at us. Just today I had a guy chasing me in his car through a parking lot. I had to use my little bit of money to get on the bus just to get away from him,” said Junior, who said he is “living in the bushes where the groundhogs live.”
Wilson concurred that panhandling “is dangerous.” He’s had people scream “die, (racial slur), die” at him, had a gun pulled on him, had handfuls of change thrown at his head and once had to run from a young male who drove his Jeep up onto the sidewalk to threaten him.
“But the few people who do help make it worth all the abuse,” Wilson said.