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Homeless advocate supports restrictive panhandling measure

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OKLAHOMA CITY - As city leaders prepare to take up a second controversial measure concerning panhandlers, it can count on the support of at least one organization that helps the homeless.

The City Rescue Mission said it will back an ordinance that pushes panhandlers farther away from a number of public places.

The ordinance would:

  • Prohibit panhandling within 50 feet of a school bus stop
  • Prohibit panhandling within 50 feet of any land owned by a public or private school and used for educating elementary school children
  • Expand the prohibited panhandling area from 20 feet to 50 feet near the outdoor seating area of any cafe, restaurant or other business, ATM, mass transit, public toilet or payphone

"I don't think we have a right to take their freedoms away," said Tom Jones, president and CEO of the City Rescue Mission. "But, if they're truly begging for food, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that if food was being handed to them here that they wouldn't take that food, if that's what they were really asking for."

Jones said he highly respects the other agencies in town that came out strongly against a previous ordinance, that prohibited panhandlers from standing on most city medians.

In fact, it's the services all those agencies perform that has him wondering why anyone is panhandling at all.

"Why would somebody need to stand outside and beg, when everything they're asking for on their sign is free to them in a number of places around the city?" he said. "Even if they are poor, they don't have to impose that on every other citizen in the community, because there are resources already available, free in this community. I don't think they need to congregate in places where people have gone to take care of other sorts of business."

The council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance at its Tuesday meeting.

It could be approved as early as Feb. 2, though a couple council members have already hinted they'd like to see the ordinance amended.