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Local Panhandlers Worried About Pending City Legislation

These Akron men are OK with registering for licenses, but express concern about restrictions on where they can stand.

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.

SDW April 11, 2012 at 06:47 PM
I second your emotion Ms. Walker
Joshua panhandler April 11, 2012 at 08:36 PM
What I meant was, to get immediate cash in hand before getting evicted, and be literally outdoors with a 1 year old. Shelters here won't accept us as an unmarried couple with a child out of wedlock, and are also in a neighborhood where people of my ethnicity really shouldn't go. This is the deep south, and everything here is run by Baptist churches, and if you don't have the same beliefs as them, you get nothing at all. I won't be forced to say a prayer to a deity I may or may not believe in, just to receive a meal or for my innocent child to be fed. When you deny us service based on the perception we're sinners, it is not us who suffers, we could survive in a tent, and skip a meal. My son however, cannot.
SDW April 11, 2012 at 08:57 PM
last year my daughter's Girl Scout troop went on a field trip to Haven of Rest and were given a brief tour. What struck me that day that had never come to mind about this specific place was how the men who frequently get their meal there in the evening must be there in line by a certain time (fine) but must sit through a service before their meal. There is 'some' grey area in this for me, but very little, you can and should 'offer' a service for those who would like and I understand that people with and of faith want to 'share', I truly do. You can even try hard, hard, hard to get the visitors to join, rock on!..... most people that I love and adore are people with strong connections to their faith and the community and their church community so I am not in the slightest bit 'anti-religion' but I was saddened by the 'rule' I was told about that one must attend services before getting a meal at this place and I have since found other local places to give to... as far as 'Joshua' and his son and his son's mother not being accepted in a shelter that is run by a faith based charity? While I am a strong believer in separation of church and state, well, ugh, these sorts of things make me get very negative and want to start mixing things up and forcing them to accept all or none.
jerry hill April 22, 2012 at 08:31 AM
my name is jerry and i have panhandled for the past 5 years..my fiancee is disabled and i take care of her full time for the past 10 years with no pay...her s.s.i. Is not enough we have been homeless off and on in the past 14 years we have been together...she will sit in her wheelchair next to me when we go too bath copely area...we are doing better now just got an apaartment..took her whole s.s.i funds for the month...we still need help...we do not have a bed yet or food stamps yet if you can help us in any way please call us at 330 338 3690 or mail us donations so we can pay our bills and survive..at 26 e. Tallmadge ave aprarment 412 akron ohio 44310 im jerry hill and she is sarah sharron any help is appreciated
yamimommy May 22, 2012 at 01:09 AM
I don't give money to panhandlers holding a sign on the side of the road. I do, however, give money to buskers playing musical instruments downtown.

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