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The perils of panhandling

Boodroe, 44, has been homeless for 17 years. He has resided and panhandled in Federal Way for more than two years. He readily admits his situation is the result of an alcohol and drug addiction that he cannot seem to shake. - Margo Horner/The Mirror
Boodroe, 44, has been homeless for 17 years. He has resided and panhandled in Federal Way for more than two years. He readily admits his situation is the result of an alcohol and drug addiction that he cannot seem to shake.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

On a chilly overcast Wednesday, Federal Way resident Michael Didier stands on the street corner holding a sign and hoping he will gather enough money from passers-by to pay his rent this month.

Didier is among several individuals who request mostly money or food from Federal Way residents and visitors. People like him were the topic of conversation Jan. 8 at a Parks, Recreation, Human Services and Public Safety committee meeting in which an amendment to the city’s aggressive begging ordinance was discussed.

The committee approved the amendment, which is fashioned after Tacoma’s panhandling ordinance, and passed it on to the full Federal Way City Council, which will vote on the change Jan. 22.

Inside look at panhandling:

Michael Didier has frequented this stretch of sidewalk along Pacific Highway South between South 320th Street and 312th Street for a year and a half. He often brings one of his four dogs with him. He is here not because he wants to be, but because he has to be, he said.

He lives in an apartment in the city, but must take to the streets, asking for money to pay his rent and take care of his wife and himself. His disability pay helps with the bills, but his wife lost her job three months ago and the couple is struggling to make ends meet.

Unlike other panhandlers Didier has seen in Federal Way, he does not knock on the windows of cars or shout at drivers. He treats people as he would like to be treated, he said. He has a valid identification card and no warrants. He does not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and he does not consider himself a combative or intimidating panhandler.

Didier just needs a little assistance that he has been unable to find anywhere else except this street corner.

“Human services can only help so much,” he said.

Didier occupies this corner from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m, he said. He encounters all kinds of people.

“I’m out here in the rain, the cold, the elements, and people bad-mouth you all the time,” he said.

Citizen complaints:

The proposed amendment stemmed from a number of complaints about begging in Federal Way, Deputy City Attorney Aaron Walls said.

As far back as two years ago, citizens began coming to city council meetings and requesting the aggressive begging ordinance be amended, Mayor Jack Dovey said. Since that time, the city council and attorneys have worked to craft an amendment to the ordinance that will address panhandling, but not infringe upon panhandlers’ rights, Dovey said.

“This just didn’t come out of left field one day,” he said.

The First Amendment grants panhandlers the right to appear on the streets asking for money and other goods, but cities have the right to limit those appearances.

“Cities can regulate the time, place and manner in which begging occurs,” Walls said.

As it stands now, Federal Way’s ordinance prohibits anyone from engaging in aggressive begging in public places. Aggressive begging is defined as using words, bodily gestures, signs or other means to request money or goods, asking for such items in an intimidating manner and using false or misleading information when soliciting goods, among other things.

The committee proposed to change the ordinance because aggressive begging poses dangers to motorists, Dovey said.

The amendment would also clarify the language of the ordinance and make it easier to understand that panhandlers directing their efforts toward drivers are breaking the law, Walls said.

“The reason it is needed is it’s a public safety issue with traffic,” Dovey said.

The amendment would make aggressive panhandling a misdemeanor offense. Police discretion would determine whether a panhandler is arrested or provided public education, Police Chief Brian Wilson said.

Public education would be the police’s first tactic, but those continuing to panhandle illegally would be cited, he said.

Nowhere to go:

Boodroe, 44, a homeless man for 17 years who now resides in Federal Way, stood on a curb, alcohol on his breath and a stocking cap on his head, outside the Arco gas station along Pacific Highway South on Wednesday.

He asked patrons entering the convenience store for spare change. He eats what he can find and stays warm by visiting the Goodwill site, he said.

He readily admits his situation is the result of an alcohol and drug addiction that he cannot seem to shake.

Federal Way police often ask him and his panhandling friends, who appear suddenly from alongside the convenience store, to vacate the parking lot and the street corner of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South, he said. Police will warn the men to leave once before slamming them with a trespassing or vagrancy citation, Boodroe said.

But Boodroe returns to this location because he can find food and other necessities here. He is not sure where police expect him to go or how he will stay fed if he is not allowed to ask the store’s patrons or motorists on South 320th for change, he said.

“It’s hard for us to leave when there is nowhere to go,” Boodroe said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Learn more:

The Federal Way City Council will review and decide upon this amendment to the aggressive begging ordinance at its Jan. 22 meeting. Those wishing to speak about the amendment to the ordinance can do so at the meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. To learn more about the ordinance, visit www.cityoffederalway.com and read city code 6-188.

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