Oak Harbor bans aggressive panhandling

OAK HARBOR, Wash. -- John Ivey sits on a curb outside Safeway in Oak Harbor about two or three times per week holding a cup and hoping for a few bucks from drivers as they pass.

"Even if I get four or five cents I'm happy," he said. "If I get a smile or a wave I'm happy."

But some Oak Harbor residents said sometimes the panhandlers are too aggressive, making them feel threatened or intimidated.

"They'll hold signs out and they'll put them out and shake them and then walk up to the car windows and try to yell and get their attention," said Ofc. Jennifer Yzaguirre who mentioned some residents addressed their concerns during a city council meeting.

Police said the panhandlers often interfere with traffic flow on the city's busiest streets and other times on the sidewalks.

"Sometimes the traffic has to stop for a minute, right? While they hand you something. We don't get out and stop traffic," said panhandler Ray Conger who can often be found waving his homemade signs near Walmart.

As part of the effort to fix the problem, the city council passed an ordinance on Tuesday that bans aggressive panhandling.

"I'm not looking to outlaw panhandling - that's never the goal and that's never what we want to do. It's just a matter of how you do it, what you do and when you do it," said Chief Ed Green.

Oak Harbor's ordinance is modeled after other city's programs like Port Townsend and Marysville. In Arlington, city officials launched a "Keep the Spare Change" campaign last fall and posted signs similar to the ones that will go up in Oak Harbor.

Police said part of the problem is that many panhandlers receive services but they continue to ask strangers for change.

"It's just a day-to-day job that they do so this hopefully will help reduce that and get the word out that we no longer will tolerate this behavior," said Yzaguirre.

Ivey said he receives food stamps but panhandles to get a few dollars for tobacco and toiletries. "I've seen a lot of people out here that's aggressive and I don't like that - that reflects back on me and other friends that sit out here," said Ivey.

The ordinance goes into effect Sunday. Violators will pay a fine up to $1,000 or do jail time.