Elkhart explores ban on panhandling

Truth file photo 

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.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

(6) comments


The current reality is that anyone wanting a job can have one. Approaching people to solicit money is against State law. Like loud care being stopped, there is usually additional crimes to accompany them. So is solicitation commonly hiding other crimes. Tax evasion? Unreported income, easy money, not in their own city says a lot.


The majority of panhandlers I see aren't causing any trouble. The annoying ones are the people that walk up in parking lots asking for money, but, hey, Just Say No. What's more annoying to me and doesn't look so good, is all the orange barrels on every other street in Elkhart. Focus on the real problems and criminals.


It’s obviously awkward to be approached by a stranger wanting money. But is the problem really the “look” of the city. Whatever has happened in the life of a panhandler to resort to panhandling on a street corner, it’s a sad situation. I don’t give money to panhandlers personally, but I certainly don’t think that the “look” of the city is the biggest issue. A little compassion goes a long way. Poverty and drug abuse and homelessness are real issues and the city’s lack of resources for the less fortunate “looks” bad too.


Henke is not a good look for the City either.


The street corner solicitation law was written in 2002 to address dangerous practices from well meaning groups to those that prey on our kindness and generosity. The practice is a bigger problem than meets the eye as taxpayers would pay for the liability claims of those hit by traffic while soliciting. No law means it is acceptable to put the City at that liability risk. When enforced these past 15 plus years we did not have much issue as the first four were cited and of these 50% had outstanding warrants and arrested for other outstanding crimes. As of late a question of subjective language came to play. The EPD was asked what language was less subjective to get the job done. It is more than how we look. It is our value, safety, liability and standards. We are not in a bad economy but a robust one. Should you want a job there are several you may chose from. Those soliciting usually don't live here and there are other reasons this is their choice and routine.


It does not look good? Well at least standing there with a sign is not illegal. Go after all the illegal stuff people do, now that would make Elkhart look better.

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