Beggars standing in the medians of busy roadways continue to be a concern for Sun City residents, so much so that legislative action that would curb the practice is being researched.
Greg Eisert, a former Sun City Home Owners Association board member, has drafted a potental bill designed to provide enforcement action against those begging in the medians. The document is being researched by attorneys before it is submitted to area lawmakers for possible action in the next session.
“The bottom line is the courts have given great latitude to the panhandlers,” he said.
A U.S. District Court ruling on a case in Flagtaff stated that panhandling is protected by the First Amendment that guarantees free speech.
Mr. Eisert’s draft bill would prohibit anyone from standing or sitting on the median of a street unless they are actively crossing a street. The draft exempts law enforcement and other emergency service personnel.
“Panhandling in the median is a safety issue and this draft bill addresses it that way,” Mr. Eisert said. “But whatever form this takes, it must be enforceable and not an undue burden on law enforcement.”
The issue is taking on another form as Sun City resident Christa Hayes, in an email to the Independent and speaking to the SCHOA Roads and Safety Committee Nov. 20, told of a white van parked continually in the median parking lot on Peoria Avenue.
“I pass a van almost every day that is parked in the MCDOT parking lot on the west side at 107th and Peoria avenues,” she stated in her email. She claims two people have been living in the van since April.
Ms. Hayes said in the committee meeting she has seen the occupants of the van go to the condo directly across Peoria Avenue from the van and wash themselves with an exterior hose. She also said she has seen boxes outside the back of the van as if deliveries were being made.
At this time, there is not a county ordinance that provides guidance to the public’s use of these parking lots, according to Traci Ruth, MCDOT strategic communications and outreach division manager.
“We are currently evaluating this situation and are looking to develop solutions to ensure that the parking lots are used for the benefit of Maricopa County residents,” she added.
People begging at the intersection of Grand and 107th avenues have been an issue for at least two years. But the activity there, and examples such as described by Ms. Hayes, have been on the increase since Youngtown officials took action to rid the Agua Fria riverbed of homeless squatters. Working with Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Sun City Fire and Medical department personnel, Youngtown officials convinced private property owners in the riverbed to allow MCSO to enforce no-trespassing ordinances.
Officials met with those living in the riverbed and directed them to resources that helped them find temporary or even permanent shelter.
“Some of them took advantage of that, and some didn’t,” Mr. Eisert said. “Those that stayed just went to other areas of the riverbed or went into the adjacent communities.”
Unless properties are posted with no trespassing or other restrictive signage, law enforcement officials have no opportunity to evict people from the medians, or even the Maricopa County Department of Transportation median parking lots, according to Sgt. Zane Hagen, MCSO District 3 community outreach officer.
The parking lots are tricky because they are designed for public access, he added.
“We can’t have a vehicle towed; that has to come from the owner,” Mr. Hagen said. “It can’t be considered an abandoned vehicle and we can’t tow for registration or other violation unless it is in the roadway.”
Ms. Hayes is concerned because she has seen another car there on a long-term basis.
“It seems like it is becoming a gathering place,” she said.
Posting signs limiting the time vehicles can be parked in the lots would provide an enforceable action. Youngtown officials are also using signage to try and deter panhandlers. They have posted signs that encourage residents to avoid giving money to panhandlers, but instead to donate to the resources that can help them. Pam Schwartz, SCHOA Roads and Safety Committee member, said Scottsdale does the same.
“They are a municipality and can do that, but we are not a municipality,” Mr. Eisert said.
He said SCHOA officials want to meet with MCSO leadership, businesses and other agencies to start a discussion about the issue.
“Meetings would be good,” Mr. Hagen said. “That would give people an idea of how our laws work.”
Ms. Schwartz said residents’ frustration with the issue is a case of feeling they are not in control.
“If we do something, they could feel they are protected on some level,” she said.