Non-profit worried about effects of Oklahoma City ordinance

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OKLAHOMA CITY - For the man standing in the median on N.W. 23rd and Broadway, the magazine he's holding is more than paper.

"It keeps me off the streets, being homeless and everything," said Gary, who sells the Curbside Chronicle for a suggested donation of $2.

Gary is one of 30 people who sell the magazine, hoping it serves as a path to a better job, a transitional housing and more.

But, starting Jan. 7, the vendors will have to find a new place to sell the magazine.

Standing on most of the city's medians will soon be against the law, though standing on sidewalks or the side of the road is still legal.

City leaders said it's a question of public safety.

At last week's city council meeting, Police Chief Bill Citty pointed to a number of accidents in and around Oklahoma City's intersections and medians, one of which claimed the life of a man who police said was a known panhandler.

Citty said the danger is that, on a median, traffic is coming from a number of directions, making it impossible to keep your eyes on all the potential hazards at once.

"This is a small piece of a much bigger puzzle," said Ward 6 council member Meg Salyer at the meeting. "The ordinance before us today is not a panhandling ordinance. It's a median safety ordinance."

But, Ranya O'Connor, director of the Curbside Chronicle, said the medians are the safest place her vendors can be.

"On the median, you can directly interact with the driver's side of the car without stepping into the roadway, which is dangerous," said O'Connor, noting that stepping in the road itself is against the law. "If it's impossible to interact with a car without getting into the roadway, I don't want to put our vendors in a position to get ticketed."

Plus, O'Connor said, about 80 percent of donations are picked up from vendors standing in medians.

The Chronicle must find other locations to sell and sell successfully.

O'Connor said she's considering going to private property owners like superstores to get permission for vendors to sell the magazine.

"It does make it harder," she said. "We are trying to remain as optimistic as possible, because we know the need exists in the community. We know that the impact is real."

The Curbside Chronicle is Oklahoma's only 'street paper,' modeled after more than 100 others in cities across the country and across the world.

The homeless or nearly homeless start with 15 magazines they receive for free and sell for suggested donations of $2.

Additional magazines cost the vendors 75 cents apiece.

"We are a publication that provides a positive alternative to panhandling and that offers legitimate employment to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, while offering them a tool to build job skills, earn an income, so they can then transition into housing and further employment opportunities," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said she is trying to look into which medians are still viable, legal places for sales.

The ordinance grants exceptions for medians that are at least 30 feet wide, 200 feet from any intersection or have benches or other features designed for public use.

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