Albuquerque City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on Nov. 6, making panhandling to motorists illegal. This is not a good solution for our city.
The City Council’s new pedestrian ordinance places restrictions not only on panhandlers, but also on vendors such as Girl Scouts selling cookies to motorists. The ordinance also forbids “boot brigade” firefighters from receiving donations from people in their cars.
The criminalizing of these harmless fundraisers not only ignores what the people in Albuquerque asked for, but also does not solve the issue it was meant to address.
The new ordinance makes it illegal for panhandlers to approach drivers on street corners, medians and sidewalks. Drivers giving money or food to panhandling pedestrians will also be cited. It is ridiculous to punish people who are trying to help others.
Richard Berry has been the mayor of Albuquerque for eight years, and yet he has failed to respond adequately to the problem of panhandling in the city.
In 2015, the City of Albuquerque placed blue signs along the streets of Albuquerque, encouraging citizens to call 311 to get help, food or shelter for panhandlers and the homeless.
Instead of utilizing city resources to directly help homeless people, money has been spent on dozens of blue signs that don't feed people or provide homes. It puts the responsibility for solving the problem on citizens instead of the city government.
Whenever I see these signs, I never know what they mean or what their purpose is. I am sure I am not the only person who is confused by this. Even if you do call the 311 number, the process is lengthy and inefficient.
This new ordinance attempts to make the panhandling population look invisible, but people in need are still there, and still do not have money, food or shelter.
Panhandlers are not criminals. There are many reasons why they beg. They might be addicted to drugs, they might have a family to feed or they are simply trying to survive.
Mayor Berry has not addressed this issue properly and failed the panhandlers as a result. Something has to be done, sooner rather than later.With the mayoral election coming up this week, the next mayor will have to create more effective solutions to address the panhandling and homelessness in our city.
State Auditor and mayoral candidate Tim Keller’s solution for the problem involves sending a social worker and paramedic to the scene to care for the needs of the person. This is a great idea, because it actually attempts to solve the causes of panhandling, instead of punishing those involved.
The law has been changed, but nothing has been solved. By eliminating “boot brigades” and girl scout cookies from public roads, wasting money on 311 signs and city council turning its back on those in need, panhandlers have been effectively ignored by their government.
Future programs need to have more support for shelter, social welfare and more opportunity to find work. Ignoring this issue will only increase our panhandling situation even more. This ordinance is a bad reflection of our city.
The last thing we need is one more reason for people not to come to Albuquerque. If this panhandling situation is resolved effectively, it will make our city a more attractive tourist destination.
Believe it or not, it is possible to solve the issue and still treat panhandlers like human beings.
Ludella Awad is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. The views in this column are her own. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org or @LudellaAwad on Twitter.