ELKHART — Some members of the Elkhart City Council have taken issue with “the usual people on the usual corners,” seeking charity from drivers.
According to Indiana law, approaching drivers, whether they are stopped or not, is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. However, just standing with a sign asking for donations does not appear to be illegal, though Elkhart Chief of Police Chris Snyder said that is “open for interpretation.”
But within Elkhart city limits, that could change.
“We want no solicitation at all,” Councilman David Henke, R-3, said at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Corporation counsel Vlado Vranjes said the Legal Department is reviewing the city’s panhandling ordinance and the state panhandling statute to determine if the city has authority to change its ordinance and impose civil fines for what he called “passive panhandling” within city limits. He could not say when the review might conclude.
Even if some do approach drivers on occasion, the current law is difficult to enforce, Snyder said when Council President Brian Dickerson, R-at large, asked if panhandlers that do approach vehicles can be charged.
“If we can catch them doing that, yes, that would be a violation of, potentially, the ordinance or the state statute,” Snyder said.
According to Henke, members of a Michigan religious order were recently caught soliciting in street lanes. He also mentioned a woman who, he said, is often approaching vehicles at a Cassopolis Street intersection, thereby stopping traffic.
“I don’t know what she’s soliciting. It just says, ‘Single mom needs money,’” Henke said.
Snyder said police had spoken with the woman and another panhandler mentioned by Henke, but that they are not violating the state statute.
“Potentially, if we could catch them obstructing traffic, when it’s not stopped and then it starts to go .... the hard part with that is just sitting out there and waiting for them, for that, to happen,” Snyder said.
Henke said panhandlers are “not a good look for the city,” especially in relation to attracting economic development.
“But we have an open council willing to do the right thing,” he said, soliciting Snyder’s advice for how to create an enforceable ordinance.
They agreed the goal is having no panhandling on Elkhart streets.
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