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Sacramento City Council Considers Banning Panhandling Near Intersections, Shopping Centers

SACRAMENTO -- If you ask Luis Perez, it's offensive when someone sees a panhandler and assumes it's a scam or someone looking for drug money.

He says there are people asking for money who have fallen on hard times.

"There's honest people out here, there's a lot of good people out here," said Perez, who used to be homeless.

That is why Perez, who was homeless for eight years, says Sacramento's new plan to ban panhandling in certain areas is upsetting.

"It's done in a negative way. It's not to help the people that actually need the help," Perez said.

"What we're trying to do is continually strike this balance between compassion and making sure people feel safe and secure in the city," Sacramento Councilman Jay Schenirer said.

The city's proposed ordinance would ban people from asking for money within 200 feet of an intersection or within 35 feet of an ATM or a driveway accessing a shopping center.

Schenirer says it's a safety concern.

"It's really by type of area rather than, downtown is off limits, or something like that," he said.

Anyone caught panhandling in those areas could be ticketed by police.

"You know it's a diversion," Schenirer said.

But homeless advocate Bob Erlenbusch says the effort is yet another way to criminalize the homeless. He says the focus needs to be on helping, not ticketing.

But if the proposed ordinance becomes the law in the city -- Schenirer says it won't be a witch hunt.

"It's a tool for police, it doesn't mean we're going to go out and give out a thousand tickets or anything like that," Schenirer said.

This debate is another example of the larger challenge homelessness poses to the city of Sacramento.