City Officials Crack Down on Panhandling

The recent proliferation of restaurants and bars in Downtown and Midtown has led to more complaints of panhandling in those areas. As Laurie Johnson reports — city leaders are toughening up the law for aggressive panhandling.

Though you may not know it, panhandling is illegal within eight feet of a person standing at an ATM, parking meter, transit facility or a gasoline pump.

Now the City of Houston plans to add sidewalk cafes to the list of places where aggressive panhandling is prohibited.

Councilmember James Rodriguez represents District I which includes the Central Business District where panhandling is a growing problem.

"The calls I get from my constituents is that they're actually sitting with their children, they're in a seated position and somebody just kind of rushes up to them and it could be quite intimidating. So what we're asking is that if you're going to panhandle, we're asking you not to do it aggressively, obviously, and not to do it. But you have to maintain eight feet from a person that's dining at a sidewalk cafe."

Although Downtown and Midtown have the most complaints about panhandling, the ordinance applies to the entire city. Rodriguez says the law isn't intended to penalize the homeless, but he says giving money to panhandlers can compound the problem.

"We have big hearts here in the City of Houston, but we really need to make sure that these folks have services. And just throwing money at the problem doesn't help. The City of Denver had a very aggressive anti-panhandling campaign, where they were actually encouraging folks instead of giving money to people on the streets, were to make that donation to a non-profit that provides services for the homeless. And that actually goes to helping the problem and helping these folks that are trying to get their lives back together."

The panhandling ordinance is up for a vote at the city council meeting tomorrow.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...