AURORA | The City of Aurora may soon ask you to save your cash for charities rather than individuals flying signs at local intersections, after City Council members signaled their support for a proposed anti-panhandling campaign Monday.
While courts have ruled that the mere act of asking strangers for money or help is protected speech, the City of Aurora has laws that specifically prohibit “aggressive begging” and approaching drivers in traffic.
In addition to that proposal, Councilmembers Angela Lawson and Steve Sundberg want the city to spread awareness of established charities, specifically Spirit of Aurora, that accept donations for homeless people, offering those as an alternative to patronizing panhandlers.
“It lessens the cycle of dependency that some people might have,” Sundberg said, mentioning the phenomenon of drug use among the homeless that could be fueled by cash handouts. “We just hope that in the long term this will lead to better care and well-being for folks around town.”
The city would use social media and other channels to spread the word and also set up signs in areas frequented by panhandlers to discourage drivers from handing out cash and impacting traffic.
Lawson specifically cited the intersection of Parker Road and Peoria Street as one location where she has seen people sitting and standing on the edge of a narrow median, close to passing cars.
“I’ve seen where some of the people who are panhandling have almost gotten hit, and there’s also little altercations between drivers, because when that light goes green, then people are ready to go,” she said. “To me, it’s a public safety issue for the people who are doing the panhandling, and also for … the drivers in many, many cases.”
City of Aurora staffers chose “Give Real Change” as the motto for the effort to steer donations toward charities rather than panhandlers.
Kim Stuart, the city’s director of communications and marketing, said producing and setting up anti-panhandling signs would cost around $400 per sign.
She said the city typically budgets around 10% of the cost of the sign per year for maintenance, though traffic manager Carlie Campuzano said signs in medians are more likely to be struck by cars and acknowledged the panhandling signs were “probably going to be likely to be vandalized more often than other signs.”
But opponents said Sundberg and Lawson’s proposal lacked important details that could have been worked out if it had gone through a policy committee first, which Sundberg said they had dispensed with to save time, mentioning how other cities have enacted similar campaigns and how the study session was also an opportunity to finalize the proposal.
The proposal did not come with a projection of the number of signs needed or an overall cost estimate, which Councilmember Juan Marcano pointed out before saying he wouldn’t support the plan without more data on the efficacy of similar campaigns.
Councilmember Alison Coombs also wondered how often police are citing panhandlers for dangerous behavior around busy intersections and how often traffic accidents are caused by panhandlers, among other details — staffers were unable to provide that data Monday.
“Where’s the data around those issues?,” she asked. “That just is all information that I think would be really beneficial for us to have, and that we probably would have been able to have if this had gone to any policy committees at all.”
Coombs, Marcano, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo ultimately said they didn’t support the proposal moving forward from Monday’s study session — not enough to stop it from proceeding to a regular meeting for a formal vote, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12.