The city of Federal Way is considering adopting several panhandling street signs, following in the footsteps of several nearby cities including Lakewood and Bellevue.
The signs would not make panhandling illegal, but they would provide alternate resources for people to donate their money to rather than giving it directly to panhandlers.
The City Council has yet to vote on this issue, but several residents have expressed concerns with panhandlers in the area over social media and during council meetings.
The city of Lakewood adopted panhandling signage one year ago, and according to communications manager Brynn Grimley, there has appeared to be a significant decrease in panhandlers since that time.
The decrease has been so significant that the department doesn’t get many calls about panhandling at all, said Lakewood police Chief Mike Zaro.
“I can’t remember the last time I got an email, phone call or anything else related to panhandlers,” Zaro said.
However, the city of Federal Way is a long way from buying any signs just yet.
There is still plenty of discussion to be had, one of which took place during a recent Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting.
The city’s senior policy advisor, Bill Vadino, spoke of the possibility, and discussed different strategies the city could adopt to deal with the panhandling issue more than just buying panhandling signs.
Vadino said the city needs to reframe the question around panhandling.
“Education is as important as discussion, not only educating those who are there on the corners but those who donate on the corners,” he said.
Vadino said so far the city had discussed four initiatives surrounding panhandling in the city, including implementing signage around the city, utilizing social media, working with nonprofits for donation gathering, and continuing to research programming in other cities.
The city is still researching several Washington cities who have adopted panhandling signs, including Lakewood, Walla Walla, Kennewick, College Place, Spokane and Bellevue.
Vadino said in Walla Walla, for about $20, “[the city] supplies signs to private property owners where there’s panhandling.”
Vadino and council member Mark Koppang went to Lakewood to tour the city and see the panhandling signs they implemented.
Depending on the location, Lakewood placed different signage in partnership with the Washington Department of Transportation on state roadways.
According to Vadino, the city of Lakewood used social media to bring awareness to residents about the new panhandling signs going up.
The first post explained that while the city empathized with panhandlers, they wanted to ensure everyone was safe in the city so they encouraged donations to go to local nonprofits to better assist those who were panhandling.
As new signs went up, Vadino said, Lakewood city staff kept up their use of social media to keep the public aware of the new signs.
Next steps for Federal Way include to continue to research how other cities are handling their panhandling issues, Vadino said.
Koppang, chair of LUTC, emphasized the city is not trying to prevent people from giving to panhandlers or making panhandling illegal.
“What we’re really doing is trying to educate the public to the fact that there are other options,” he said.
In a separate interview with the Mirror, Vadino said that if the panhandling signs are adopted, they will cost the city around $10,000, or $500 per sign.
The city is considering several options for how they will pay for the signs, he said.
On a Facebook post in Federal Way Community, several people agreed that panhandling signs are needed in the city.
“We need this badly,” stated Marci Swazer.
Other commenters like Anne Brennan said that while they may be unnecessary, the signs “would be nice and probably would be effective.”
However, on the Friends of Federal Way Facebook page, several people think panhandler signs would be a waste of resources and the city should instead focus on social media campaigns.
“No, I think that a campaign partnership with the City and local nonprofits to spread the information about donations and programs as well as how to access is more important,” Lyn Idahosa stated.
Deb Nicholson thought it would be difficult to put enough necessary information on the signs for this to be a legitimate action.
Shannon McCann does not think signs are necessary.
“We don’t need taxpayer money on signs. Signs are also a challenge because the City of Federal Way doesn’t have city-operated shelters.”