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City moves a step closer to adopting solicitation ordinance

El Paso City Council moved a big step closer Thursday to adopting an ordinance that would ban the solicitation of money by anyone in certain areas throughout El Paso.

It’s an ordinance that will not only affect the homeless, but youth and other groups trying to raise money. Afterall, it’s not just the homeless that walk in the street and stand on medians asking for money.

If this new ordinance is adopted, which could happen in a matter of weeks, all of that will have to stop or fines will be imposed.

“I feel like they’re taking everything away from us,” said Jeannine, a homeless woman from California that has been begging for money on a Downtown El Paso median for several weeks, something she will no longer be allowed to do if a new ordinance banning what the city calls “aggressive solicitation” passes. “It’s not a very good way to get help, but it’s something. It’s all we have.”

The ordinance has three main components: It bans aggressive solicitation – through physical contact, blocking someone’s way, or causing fear. It bans solicitation within 15 feet of certain public areas, including ATM’s, banks, check cashing businesses, parking meters and roadway medians. Finally, it allows for commercial businesses like strip malls or shopping centers to ban solicitors by simply putting up a sign.

“I don’t know where people are going to go to make money or how they’re gonna get their help,” Jeannine said.

According to the new ordinance, standing on a street corner, it’s alright to solicit for money. However, doing it from the median, whether begging for money or selling water or anything else, is a violation of this ordinance.

“I understand the safety reasons because I have almost gotten hit a couple times,” Jeannine said.

El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson admitted she has been trying to get the solicitation ordinance, which exists in other Texas cities, adopted in El Paso for several years.

“Personally, I think it’s inappropriate,” Wilson said. “I think it’s very dangerous.”
But some members of City Council and the Homeless Coalition of El Paso are opposed to some parts of it.

“We know that panhandling is a problem and it’s not just the homeless that are panhandling,” said Carol Bohle, director of the Homeless Coalition of El Paso. “But we feel that the way this particular ordinance is going to be enforced that it will be targeting that specific population.”

City Representatives Emma Acosta and Susie Byrd were the only ones to vote against it. Acosta said she’s against it because it’s difficult to define what “aggressive” behavior is. Byrd said she thinks the ordinance will be enforced against the homeless, but not against groups trying to raise money.

A public hearing where a final vote will be taken is expected to be held in the next few weeks. The fine amount for violating the ordinance has yet to be determined.

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