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SFPD Drafting Tighter Panhandling Rules: Can You Spare Some Free Speech?

Last updated on 2012.11.14

Sioux Falls—O jewel of the prairie!—is worried that panhandlers may dim its image. The local police are thus drafting a tougher panhandling ordinance that allow them to arrest folks for asking for money near Interstate exits and traffic entrances.

Of course, we have businesses asking for our money with much more garish and distracting signs all along the Interstate and the shining streets of Sioux Falls. Does the SFPD want to outlaw, perhaps, those flashing Daktronics signs that draw the eye away from much tamer sights like stop lights and pedestrian crossings?

Chief Doug Barthel at least recognizes the First Amendment danger in crafting such an ordinance:

Meanwhile, the Police Department will present a proposed revised version of the panhandling ordinance to the Public Services Committee in September. According to Barthel, crafting the language is tricky because he does not want it to affect people holding up signs promoting events, such as school car washes [Brady Mallory, "Panhandling Laws Could Get Stricter,", August 31, 2012].

I generally don't sympathize with panhandlers. I want to believe that folks sufficiently literate to make a sign and sufficiently healthy to walk the street with that sign each day have the wherewithal to make money working. But I also recognize they have as much right to make their pitch on public streets as businesses advertising their wares, politicians asking for votes, petitioners seeking signatures, and protesters shouting their slogans.

Spare yourself the First Amendment hassle, Chief Barthel. Current ordinances on physical harassment and impeding traffic should be enough to take care of any real problems. Folks asking for money in high-traffic areas is just another of those badges of metropolitan honor Sioux Falls must bear as it grows.

Related: Maybe police should be more concerned about protecting Native American women from catcalls and other harassment on the street.


  1. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    Unless they are a safety issue in certain places I say let them be . I give to pan handlers frequently, as God leads me, and usually deliver a little message too. On numerous occasions i go beyond chucking a buck and take them somewhere and chat or put them to work for me around the church. It's also well worth the conversation that we have with our kids who ask about them and everyone one of us who are blessed need to regularly face uncomfortable moments that challenge our willingness to be a blessing. I'd like a conversation on why we are seeing more of it here. Sweeping people under the rug is wrong. More to say about panhandling overseas versus here in the states. According to book of Hebrews some of these folks are angels and we are unaware. They are sent here to test us and God watches our response or lack thereof. I don't need to be reminded they often buy booze and cigarettes, remember I supported drug testing  welfare recipients. It's my money to give here, and there are things to give and ways to give that make sure real needs are met.

  2. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    A couple fun stories:

    Another pastor and I were walking in downtown KC and we had that thirty second awkward approach coming upon a panhandler. Sensing a leading to give him something I did and we took two steps and glanced back and the guy was gone - brick buildings on both sides of street, no alleyway. The guy simply vaporized. Two of us witnessed it and we were both stunned for days. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, mister unbelieving Heidelberger.

    Moral of the story... we need to double and triple think-through how we treat the poor because they have the attention of God. (We aren't talking about accountability for public funds here.)

    On another occasion a friend was in DC for a week of meetings, his family was along. His 10 year old son had spending money and begged his dad to let him give some to a panhandler. Dad said no. Kid persisted and the dad agreed to step into a shop and buy a sandwich. A half a block away they found a monster burrito shop and the kid bought the biggest one they made and gave it to the guy. They had a blast with the guy. All week the kid insisted every day they go back and buy a panhandler a monster burrito. He spent none of his trip money on himself that week. Who blessed who that week?

    Moral of the story... a SF panhandling ordinance might do more to deprive the residents of the city a bit of blessing than it would to keep a little blessing from a panhandler.

    Overseas, depending on the country, it's can be dangerous to get your money out - and I walk by many before giving to one. Here in SF, there is no way bikini clad Sioux Falls high school kids waving car wash signs in medians is okay and panhandlers are not okay at least as it relates to the distraction and driving aspect of the matter.

    We need to keep our issues straight on this one. Is this about road/public safety and/or driving distractions? Is it about cleaning up the community image? Is it about the recession? How many people are asking for a panhandling ordinance? And, arresting people for this? How much does that cost? Is it about perpetuating booze abuse and enabling people who refuse to work?

    That's the only aspect of this which is a struggle for me: there ARE jobs here and I can point them in the right direction and make necessary introductions but typically they just want money as they are heading somewhere. The Bible says, you don't work, you don't eat. So that why I'm comfortable letting people decide what they want to do charitably with their own money and doubling down on those who want public money but refuse to work. I'd love to see a study on what percentage of panhandlers in the midwest do it full-time simply because it's lucrative. Certainly it exists. Entitlement is found at all levels.

  3. mc 2012.09.01

    What is the difference between someone holding a sign asking for some money or food, and someone dressed in a chef's hat and shades asking you to stop and get a pizza, or high school girls in bikini tops and shorts asking you to stop for a car wash?

    These pan hanlders can cause a safety issue, in which case yes something should be done to move them to a safer location. Some of them can get quite agressive, in which I will ask the police to step in.

  4. Dougal 2012.09.01

    Shameful that these American citizens are stuck in this tragic predicament. What are they supposed to do, eat grass?

    I saw a couple with two children at the intersection near Walmart in Brookings with a sign: "Out of work. Can't pay rent. We are sorry."

    Brookings, South Dakota!!! This should not be happening in Brookings. I gave them $5. The wife took the money while her husband stared at the ground.

    The heavy fist of the law isn't needed to stop these people from seeking help. Until this nation recovers, they deserve our help, our mercy and understanding because they are part of the landscape and the current reality.

  5. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    A commenter over on my FB page made a good point: At least they are asking, not taking. Desperate people do what they have to do.

    Jesus said the poor will always be among us. They will still be there, though fewer of them, even in better economies. The reason I said the other night that it's fair game to compare Romney's charitable giving and Obama/Biden's charitable giving is because it's very telling how generous we are personally. It's one thing to give away other people's money. It's another to sell what you have and give to the poor.

    We have a guy in our church who has given away his paid-for house, twice. I love being around those people, they change the world - they change lives. BTW, he drives a city bus for a living - we aren't talking uber-wealthy. Here's something fun for your family that will change your kids forever: sell all the crap you have in storage and pay for the daycare of a single mom. It's a blast and it'll blow her away. We can do this, we just need to be inspired.

    In depressed economies I think we ought to be telling stories of the generosity of individual average Americans because it's more blessed to give than receive. It'll inspire more giving and break the spirit of entitlement. It'll demonstrate that government isn't the first line of defense when people need help. My challenge to our business community is to give back - and not merely by footing the bill for scoreboards with your name lettered larger than the score. Hard times are always great times for Americans to step up and be great.

  6. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    obscenity spewed by hickey in the morning: gawd.

  7. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    Despair is universal and no mythical belief system is going to fix it. Addiction is as real as living in an alley or under a bridge during a blizzard. That some equally desperate 'pastor' would pontificate to a blog audience because of compassion rather than agenda is every bit as mythical.

  8. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    South Dakota is despair: repeal video loottery or force the state to house these people.

  9. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    The same people that argue that addiction is a choice deny that a woman has a right to make her own reproductive decisions: what hypocrisy.

  10. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    Or Larry, there is consistency in also giving consideration to the most insignificant, vulnerable and dependent members of the human family.

    I agree, video lottery needs to go. So do payday lenders. Talk about a blight on a community. No kidding, when I drove into town for the first time 18 years ago the first thing I noticed were casino's everywhere and dollar loan places. It's a sign of poverty, not prosperity. When I bring guests in, they notice. We are used to it, but it's a sore thumb a visitor can see. Let's work on those ordinances too.

    But back to you Larry, I'm having a good day so I'm not going to join you in your miserable mood.

  11. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    Waking up to find your wearisome mythos at the top of Cory's blogroll curdled my coffee and now agreeing with you on something has scared away my buzz from last night in paradise, Steve.

    Collect some money from your religious collective and buy bus tickets for Corpus Christi for the folks that will accept them.

  12. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    While yer at it, Rev: repeal the Janklow era altogether.

  13. Thad Wasson 2012.09.01

    These beggers are pikers. The big money handouts go to T. Denny Sanford East River and H. Shafai West River.

  14. G-Man 2012.09.01

    Panhandlers are every where. It's just a fact of life and always will be. We have our share of them in Eugene. They don't bother me and I don't bother them. Well, I have to get ready for my first Ducks game. They play Arkansas State today. Go Ducks!!!

  15. Bill Dithmer 2012.09.01

    Its funny we should be having this conversation today. The RCJ has an op-ed piece from the Governor about crime and the number of people that have been sent to our prisons.

    It looks like more of the same in good old SD. Doggie said ". The work group is not considering deeper societal questions that could be a root cause of crime, such as poverty or education."

    Without that there will be no changes that will have a lasting effect on prison numbers.

    And then this. "We should not be afraid to look critically at ourselves. If we find something we cannot defend, then perhaps it is indefensible and needs to be changed."

    Well how about changing the laws concerning the use and possession of marijuana? Non violent offenders that are not hurting anyone put in jail for nothing more then smoking a natural herb.

    To say that pot is more harmful then alcohol is not only a lie but shows true ignorance. Again how many people have died from the direct use or marijuana, and how many have died from the direct use of booze? I don't mean where pot is a contributing factor, I mean where it is the cause of death. I asked our attorney general that question a year ago and got no answer from him. Would that be because the money bag would get closed if he gave a true answer or is it because he really doesn't know?

    Push to change the drug laws Governor. The most dangerous drug in the US today is booze followed closely by prescription drugs. Again how many deaths have been caused by the direct use of pot? None.

    How many deaths from the use of prescription drugs and booze. Lets just say there aren't enough toes and fingers in this state to count that high.

    Governor lead boldly or get off the pot. There are other people that want to use the bathroom and your in the way.

    The Blindman

  16. Bill Fleming 2012.09.01

    "Sensing a leading to give him something I did and we took two steps and glanced back and the guy was gone – brick buildings on both sides of street, no alleyway. The guy simply vaporized. Two of us witnessed it and we were both stunned for days. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, mister unbelieving Heidelberger."

    Very curious story, Rev. Hickey. I'm not sure what to make of it. What do you think happened? Let's suppose it was an angel (as I think you are suggesting). Did he trick you? What became of the money? Do angels need greenbacks? Or to they just want to rid you of yours? Or is there something deeper you are trying to explain to Cory here?

    Thanks for your reconsideration of this tale in advance. BF

  17. Bill Dithmer 2012.09.01

    Could it be Wakan

    The Blindman

  18. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    Bill, I'm convinced it was an angel. I've had other encounters over the years and it's not about taking my money or them needing money. It's Hebrews 13:2... "do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it." You see it also in Genesis 18 when 3 travelers show up at Abrahams tent and he tells Sarah to prepare a big meal. What's happening it God is testing our generosity. If we can be trusted with little, he gives us more to distribute. Thanks for not scoffing at these things.

  19. Bill Fleming 2012.09.01

    Thanks for explaning, Steve.

  20. grudznick 2012.09.01

    BAH. I entertain strangers often and I've never gone "poof" like some genie.

  21. larry kurtz 2012.09.01

    Hickey's twitter avatar is a capt. amerika with the right reverend's head photoshopped onto it: he regularly assails the President with coded allusions to white supremacy.

  22. grudznick 2012.09.01

    Rape the land and slaughter all the kitties and wolves. That's what Captn American would do

  23. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    The story behind the Captain America pic is this: last year I joked after dedicating a baby that no one names their kid Steve anymore. A few days later I went to the captain America movie and tweeted that his name STEVE Rogers. A graphic artist friend saw my tweet and photoshopped my mug on the movie poster. Read into it whatever you want. Do you people have any sense of humor ?

  24. Justin 2012.09.01

    He probably disappeared because he ran into the crackhouse the instant you gave him the money. That happened to me once but I wasn't trying tl be charitable.

  25. Steve Hickey 2012.09.01

    And go ahead and roll your eyes at my angel stories- I have some more interesting ones from being with people when they die or from car accidents . If you think I'm nuts ask around if people have ever had an angel encounter. You'll be surprised how many people say yes. cBS took a poll a few years ago and reported 8 in 10 people believe in this stuff.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.01

    An angel? As a disbeliever, I'm sure I'm missing something. but this business of angels coming down to test our character when they work for a boss who already knows every detail of our character and whether or not we will help that panhandler seems rather silly. It seems just as rational to suggest that your money caused a wormhole to open and transport the dude across the galaxy. Dang it, Steve! How many times do I have to tell you to check your cash for quantum singularities?

    MC, those pizza hawkers and bikini'ed carwashers can get pretty aggressive, too.

  27. grudznick 2012.09.01

    Mr. H and I are the 2 in 10 that don't believe in angel beggars and such. Mr. Kurtz is not telling the full story again because he is one of the 8.

  28. Bill Fleming 2012.09.01

    It only matters if Hickey believes it. I don't hear him asking any of us to. He's just telling us his experience. And he's right. A lot of people believe in angels. Hey, a lot of people believe what grudz says too, you know? That's how we are. We like to believe in stuff.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.01

    I appreciate Justin's skepticism. I have students who don't believe pickpockets can grab their wallet without their knowing. Criminals have lots of practice. They are faster and sharper than we realize.

  30. JoeBoo 2012.09.01

    I don't think they can or should be able to make it illegal, but I have no problem with them tightening it up a little bit. Those that have signs, and don't go up to a vehicle without the driver engaging them I'm fine with, but when they are knocking on your window at the stop sign or yelling at you then I do have a problem.

  31. larry kurtz 2012.09.02

    On any given day in Santa Fe there are 15 people selling various publications at busy street corners: many of whom have cigarettes hanging from their lips.

    My hope is that the people in SooFoo or Rancid City are doing those jobs of shaming otherwise 'productive' South Dakotans into thinking about the brutality of humanity and actually result in winter gigs far away from the sentences being served by working stiffs during Minnehaha or Pennington County blizzards.

  32. larry kurtz 2012.09.02

    There is a guy at the Jackson Blvd exit in Spearfish selling arrowheads that he learned to flake: I always give him $20.

    Veterans make up the majority of these people: they have witnessed, and/or participated in, the slaughter of women and children. Many women doing the work of panhandling live with vets abandoned by their country.

  33. Bill Fleming 2012.09.02

    Even committed athiest writers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens acknowledge "the transcendant, the numinous, and the ecstatic experience" and the altruism inherent in the human experience... indeed, suggesting these as being what perhaps makes us human.

    When Hicky expresses his faith along these lines, invoking trust in "our better angels" (as Lincoln did), I have no quarrel with him, Cory.

  34. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.02

    Is not seeing which way the guy in the alley went an encounter with "the transcendent, the numinous, and the ecstatic"? It seems we could establish more useful common ground by focusing on our wonder at the good we can do for each other with our inherent and verifiable altruism than by positing some unverifiable claim of a mini-Rapture.

    I'll even co-opt Steve's alley Rapture and suggest that I can make it more morally instructive from an atheist perspective. In Steve's story, he gives the guy money, God zaps the guy, and the moral is, "Help other people, because God is watching." (Alternative moral: "Dang! There went Steve's money. God zapped the guy before Steve's money could do any earthly good.")

    In my version of the story, Steve gives the guy money, the guy disappears. We wonder briefly where the guy went, but then we get to the real moral of the story: Help others. Don't help because God is watching and you're afraid of getting zapped yourself. Don't help because you expect the guy to thank you. Don't help because you expect to have the pleasure of watching the guy smile and get a sandwich. Don't help because you expect some return on your investment. Just help. Do the right thing because it is the right thing, the human thing.

    My non-theist story produces the same practical outcome, but the behavior is based on a moral principle, not the fear of Steve's theist story. Which is stronger?

  35. Bill Fleming 2012.09.02

    Cory, the way you lay it out is the way I took Hickey's story. I guess I don't see any difference between the two positions. Only difference is in the language used to express it, (which is always a tricky thing.)

  36. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.02

    I've got to niggle: I feel an important difference when anyone invokes angels making matter disappear. If nothing else, Steve's story requires me and other non-believers to interrupt our taking in of the story with a "yeah yeah, whatever." Does my wording impose a similar burden on believers?

  37. Bill Fleming 2012.09.02

    Cory, your scenario doesn't address the concern quite the same way as Hicky's does which of course is "what is the guy going to do with the money" to which the answer is, "it doesn't make any difference." That (at least to me) is the transcendent part, and (again in my opinion) both of you kind of beat around that particular bush, probably because there really isn't any way to say it.

  38. Bill Fleming 2012.09.02 of my favorite stories is about the panhandler who, when the "will work for food" meme wore off, came up with his own original sign whch read "need fuel for Lear Jet."

  39. Justin 2012.09.02

    What's the moral when you get robbed by an anonymous angel?

    If there are deities I don't expect they can be omnibenevolent.

  40. Bill Fleming 2012.09.02

    In what sense do you get that anyone was robbed, Justin? Isn't this all just a conversation about imagination? So what if Hickey thinks he gave his gift to an angel when his intent was to give it to person instead? Isn't that just another way of expressing love beyond reason?

  41. Justin 2012.09.02

    I was robbed. Try to keep up.

    I think it must have been an angel since I didn't see it. I mean I didn't until now.

    I think it's fine to have given him money. But what he probably could have used instead of whatever he used it for, is some real help, not self gratifying pittances from the rare person that contributes. Those people just create the economic force that allows one to get by on begging as an occupation.

  42. John 2012.11.14

    Most people are only a few paychecks from being on the streets. I'm sure at least half of the people worked their entire life, paid there taxes, spent money in the community. For what to stand on a corner holding a sign with no help from the community. Its hard to get a job now and almost impossible if you don't have a residence. Why can't the city help some of these people, put them to work doing civil jobs. Especially for the ones who lost their jobs and just can't keep up.

    This is how it works and doesn't matter if you rented for 10 years. You lose your Job, pawn everything you own. A few months go by with no work or one that pays minium wage. Your late and get a eviction notice to vacate in 3 days. No place to go except the Mission. That gets you shower that you have to take in the Middle of the day and cot to sleep in. Thats only for 30 days. It doesn't have to be this way people. This city and country for that matter doesn't do a thing for hard working people that hit hard times. Especially if your Single and have no family. Thank you very much Keloland #1 City in America 20 years ago. Flushed that down the drain. BTW I know this from expierence.

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