Boise Passes Controversial Law To Limit Panhandlers

Sep 18, 2013

Boise’s City Council approved a plan to limit what the city labels as aggressive panhandling. About 75 people showed up at City Hall Tuesday night, many to protest the vote.

Ed Keener, on the board of the Interfaith Sanctuary Homeless Shelter, joined over 70 others to protest the city's new ordinance on aggressive panhandling.
Credit Jessica Murri / Boise State Public Radio

The council passed the ordinance 3 to 1. It doesn’t ban panhandling all together, as long as those who do it don't target specific people or groups.

Critics say this ordinance is too restrictive. Larry Shamks is homeless and disabled. He plays the ukulele now because his hands can’t handle the guitar, which he says he played for 40 years.

Shamks stands for 10 to 15 hours a day making about a dollar an hour in tips with the ukulele. He’s afraid this ordinance will take that away.

Most of these people really want something for their lives, and for some reason or another, they've lost those opportunities,” Shamks said. “I've got a lot of skill.  A lot of these other people out here have skill.  People don't look at that.  People just bypass those people and say, ‘It's just another homeless person.’  Aren't they worth saving?”

Shouts and profanity could be heard in the council chambers from some in the audience immediately after the vote.

City council member Lauren McLean was the only one to vote against the new measures. Councilman T.J. Thomson supported the ordinance. He said the city council drastically changed it from its original form, focusing more on sit-lay laws, to one that addresses aggressive panhandling. That, he argued, makes this ordinance friendlier.

“The one thing I have trouble understanding I guess is the outcry in comparison to the prior ordinance,” Thomson says. “It actually modified the prior ordinance, the one presently on the books, from a misdemeanor and it lowers it to an infraction, so it actually is less harder-hitting than the one presently on the books.”

The new law takes effect in January.