Council examines panhandling

Several Monroe residents attended the Monroe City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 16, to voice concerns about panhandling in the city of Monroe.

Residents Heidi Webster and Julie Martinoli addressed the council, encouraging them to consider adopting an ordinance that would prohibit panhandling. Both recounted negative experiences they've had involving panhandlers in both the Safeway and Haggen parking lots.

"I'm not without compassion,GÇ¥ Martinoli said. "But I also don't want to be accosted in the parking lots.GÇ¥

Martinoli cited Arlington, Marysville and Sultan as examples of cities that have established bans against panhandling.

But, actually, cities have rarely implemented an outright ban against anything other than aggressive or coercive panhandling, which Monroe's code already bans. While the guidelines differ from place to place, panhandling ordinances are typically a set of rules governing panhandling activities.

Arlington's ordinance offers the most restrictive framework of regulations, disallowing panhandling within 300 feet of intersections, on- or off-ramps, city parks, school zones, financial institutions and more.

Adopted in 2008, Monroe's current panhandling ordinance prohibits coercive solicitation, which is otherwise known as aggressive panhandling. The existing regulations are outlined in Monroe Municipal Code chapter 9.35, under "Regulation of Solicitation.GÇ¥ The code lacks the specificity of Arlington's code in the sections that dictate solicitation time, distance and location restrictions, but coercive panhandling is against the law in Monroe.-á

The definition of "coerciveGÇ¥ encompasses various intrusive activities, including blocking the passage of a person or a vehicle for the purpose of solicitation, approaching or gesturing in a manner that reasonable minds would find threatening, approaching within 1 foot of a person without their consent, or persisting in a solicitation after receiving a negative response.

"As far as we're concerned, the municipal code is spot-on. It talks about coercive and aggressive panhandling,GÇ¥ said Monroe Police Deputy Chief Ken Ginnard. "We think that is appropriate, and we would take enforcement on that.GÇ¥

Passively holding a sign, provided that the solicitor isn't on private property, is generally permissible; however, the legality of the action is dependent on time, distance and location criteria established in the code. Simply asking someone for money, in many cases, is not illegal.-á -á

"It has to bridge past that point to where you actually feel like you're being victimized,GÇ¥ said Monroe Police Sgt. Brian Johnston. "Like you do not have control over something.GÇ¥

The problem, Ginnard explained, is that aggressive panhandling is a crime against a person, which means that the department needs to have interaction with the victim to proceed with an investigation. Simply calling 9-1-1 and reporting the incident is not enough. Victims of aggressive panhandling need to remain on scene and wait for law enforcement to arrive so that the officer can file an official report.

"If someone comes within a foot of you without your permission, that's aggressive. If somebody stands in the middle of the road and doesn't let vehicular traffic or pedestrian traffic pass, that's aggressive,GÇ¥ Ginnard said. "Those are the kind of things that we'll take a look at.GÇ¥

And once a call to 9-1-1 has been made, it is crucial for the complainant to remain on scene to talk with the responding officer.

"Without a victim, we can't do a whole lot about it,GÇ¥ Ginnard said.

Madison Werner, one of the homeless individuals recently evicted from Al Borlin Park, approached the council during the meeting to encourage them not to pursue an outright ban against panhandling. She touched on how difficult it is for somebody to find a job once they've become homeless.

"I haven't been able to get a job interview since I've become homeless because people discriminate against it,GÇ¥ Werner said. "When you arrest more people for panhandling all it does is make people want to panhandle more because they have to pay the fines for the court.GÇ¥

Currently, a violation of the city's existing ordinance prohibiting aggressive panhandling is punishable by imprisonment for up to 90 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Werner explained that she and her boyfriend, Terry Zuanich, have a dificult time locating shelters that will accept them because they have a dog. Zuanich addressed the council as well, upset about being evicted from the park and having his belongings discarded.

Werner, 17, has been homeless for a year.

Monroe resident Kristina Jorgensen spoke out against an outright ban against panhandling. No stranger to homelessness, Jorgensen was honored earlier this year at Housing Hope's Community of Hope fundraising dinner. The young mother gave a presentation at the dinner and was acknowledged for turning her life around and overcoming addiction.

"Banning panhandling is not getting to the root cause of why these people are there,GÇ¥ Jorgensen said. "They're homeless, they are suffering, and we need to come together as a community to help them.GÇ¥

Jorgensen spoke of her own experiences and reflected briefly on her past.

"I came from homelessness, and I'm also a drug addict. I have three children, I have panhandled myself for baby formula, for milk, for food,GÇ¥ Jorgensen said. "I also have overcome that, and I think that if we show support to these homeless people in our community, they can overcome it, too.GÇ¥

Representation from service organizations, including Take the Next Step and the Handup Project, were also present during the council meeting. Take the Next Step works with homeless and low-income individuals in numerous ways, including a weekly community dinner, a daily drop-in center and more. The Handup Project works with homeless individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, helping them receive medical care, detoxification services, drug and alcohol treatment and housing.

The Monroe City Council plans on reviewing the existing panhandling code during the July 21 council meeting.-á

To review aggressive panhandling regulations, visit The code can be found in Title 9, chapter 9.35, under Regulation of Solicitation.

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