Tonight, Missoula's City Council takes up a pair of panhandling ordinances. You can read the fine print here and here. City spokesperson Ginny Merriam, who served as the coordinator for the Panhandling Working Group, says the group grappled with methods to quell the most aggressive solicitors. The idea of the first ordinance, as I understand it, is not to chase the city’s homeless population to, say, Frenchtown, but to arm police officers with a law for when someone crosses the line from solicitation to shake down.
The other ordinance concerns sleeping in a public place, and it's received harsh criticism through Bob Jaffe's listserv and local blogs like 4&20 and Red Tape. While council kicks around the details tonight, I do know that the proposed consequence for a violation of either ordinance is a fine. The punishment may seem a little counterintuitive for a population that already begs on the street, but jail time costs the city money and the idea, as Merriam explains it, is to deter harassment, not round up the homeless.
If you have any thoughts about panhandling in Missoula, attend tonight’s meeting.