Kudos for task force campaign

       City Council gave positive feedback Oct. 9 to a planned multimedia campaign urging citizens not to give money to panhandlers.

During one of the warm days last summer, a local "visitor," with a trash bag for a pillow, took a snooze in the Bancroft Park pavilion.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The reaction followed comments by Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) President Welling Clark during the Citizen Discussion portion of the council agenda.
       Using a brief PowerPoint presentation, Clark defined the campaign as one of three “legs” in an ongoing anti-panhandling effort. The other two are enforcement and infrastructure improvements. He said the former is being worked by the Avenue Task Force (involving Westside business and residential leaders, law enforcement officials and government representatives), and the latter through a public, consultant-led study of the Colorado Avenue corridor west of 31st Street.
       The multimedia campaign, using private funds only, has created a poster (showing that giving money to beggars can prove expensive to others because they're likely to use it for liquor, pass out and wind up being transported to hospital emergency rooms).
       The main message is that if people stop giving money to panhandlers - donating instead to charities - the issues with such transients will be greatly reduced.
       The task force has also created handout cards, and plans to produce and publicize short and long videos in the same theme, Clark said.
       In answer to council questions, he emphasized that the idea is to spread the message through the city as well as the county. “This will help on the avenue [West Colorado] and all areas,” he said.
       A draft no-panhandling ordinance, developed by the City Attorney's Office, would ban begging in the downtown only. But City Council has asked the attorney to rework it and come back Oct. 22.
       One of the attorney's concerns, in confining the zone to the downtown, has been that having such an ordinance citywide could mean being sued by civil rights advocates for denying free speech.
       “We don't want to infringe on freedom of expression,” Clark told council, alluding to that concern. “This is our freedom of expression, passing along what's the right thing to do.”
       Clark noted that El Paso County Commissioners have endorsed the multimedia campaign and asked council to do the same.
       Councilmembers Angela Dougan and Tim Leigh complimented the effort, and Council President Scott Hente directed that the matter come back as a formal agenda item.

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