Dallas may soon start ticketing panhandlers and pedestrians on street medians
People panhandling — or walking along Dallas medians — may soon face significant fines.
A proposed ordinance would ban pedestrians from being on traffic medians that are less than 6 feet wide, on roads without medians at all and from so-called "clear zones" like bike lanes.
Charlie Leavitt, the executive director of Metro Relief, a nonprofit that helps people experiencing homelessness, said ticketing and fining people who can't afford to pay would create a hardship.
People who stand on medians could be issued a Class C misdemeanor citation and fined up to $500 if the ordinance is approved.
“I've seen it with other people. They have some tickets or fines for loitering... and they can't move ahead with these fines that are trying to keep the public safe,” he said.
Leavitt said he “understands where the city is coming from on safety issues,” but it’s very hard for him to reach an opinion on the proposed ordinance. He said Dallas City Council is in a very tough spot.
At a recent meeting, city transportation officials and the city attorney assured some city council members it has nothing to do with panhandling, but is for "pedestrian safety.”
Dallas police officers would handle enforcement. City officials are looking to see if city marshals also could help.
Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said case workers with the Office of Homeless Solutions would respond to people experiencing homelessness who are panhandling.
“This isn't meant to give people tickets. It isn't meant to put people in jail and further bring them down," Mendelsohn said. But, he said, it does "provide safety to the actual person in the median — as well as the drivers and clear traffic."
Council Member Tennell Atkins asked city leaders about how this ordinance would apply to school sports teams or other groups asking for donations on the street.
City staff said the ordinance would apply to everyone. Executive Assistant City Attorney Casey Burgess said people involved in fundraising may be able to get permission to seek donations from the city's medians.
Atkins asked that city staff explore educating the public on the proposed ordinance.
Council Member Omar Narvaez questioned if all medians in Dallas medians are 6 feet wide. Transportation leaders couldn’t answer that but said medians vary in size.
Narvaez said the ordinance needs some work. He wants clarification on the size of medians. He also wanted to know if someone crossing the street through a median could be cited.
There is no statewide ban against panhandling in Texas. But some cities — including Houston, Fort Worth and Austin — have passed similar ordinances.
Leavitt said if the ordinance passes, Dallas leaders should prepare to see more people in court.
“They're going to fill their own system, their own court with a bunch of tickets for a misdemeanor,” he said. “It just creates — and I'm not a lawyer or a judge — but it just adds more burden.”
The Dallas City Council is set to vote next week.
Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member for KERA News. Email Alejandra at email@example.com. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.
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