Begging in Oak Park just became allowable, following the Oak Park Board of Trustees’ decision to repeal a generally unenforced ordinance forbidding the practice.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek explained at the board meeting on Oct. 1 that the begging ordinance has been around for about 30 years “but it has consistently been determined by the courts that it isn’t really the right way to handle begging and panhandling.”
Lawsuits against municipalities that have such ordinances have been consistently upheld, prompting the board to remove the ordinance.
“The police department has not enforced this in a number of years because of concerns about free speech,” she said. “They really work to provide service and approach the situation much differently in a pro-active way.”
While the police department did not enforce the panhandling ordinance, it did begin ticketing and arresting people in 2015 for soliciting in the roadway.
Oak Park Interim Police Chief LaDon Reynolds, who was a commander for the OPPD in 2015, said at the time that soliciting in the roadway was a safety concern for panhandlers and those in vehicles.
Panhandling is often seen on the exit ramps of the Eisenhower Expressway and at major intersections of the village like Harlem and North avenues.
Trustee Dan Moroney suggested that the village consider installing machines downtown that allow people to give to local charities that serve homeless and vulnerable populations.
“Springfield, Illinois and Rapid City, South Dakota have ‘giving meters’ in their downtown, so one line of thinking is that money given to the homeless is better given to an organization such as Housing Forward. … It can help provide service to the homeless, and there’s a lot of people who want to give but want to give to the right source,” he said.
He described the giving meters as looking similar to parking meters.
“So when they are asked for money, maybe with their kids, and they want to set a good example, they can put the money directly into a meter,” he said.