City aims to increase panhandling fines

Posted at 6:27 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 19:27:30-05

Tulsa is looking to make roadside solicitations a thing of the past and the city plans on hitting people in their pocketbooks to make it happen.

But that's raising some concern about what it could mean for the homeless.

City prosecutors want to increase the fine from $50 to $150 for anyone who panhandles near a street.

But some of the homeless feel they are a direct target.

It's been two years that Gary Coplen called Tulsa streets home.

"It's hard. It's always hard to try to make it ... when you're sick and all that," said Coplen.

Earning about $15 a day, he says panhandling is a way of life ... one he's not particularly proud of.

"When you can, you just got to hope and pray you make enough to make it. It's all you can do," he said.

The city is beefing up on its efforts to make Tulsa a panhandling-free zone. And they say it's all because of safety.

"The last thing we would want is some young person to be hit by a vehicle and they suffer serious injury or death," said City Prosecutor Robert Garner.

Garner says Tulsa roadways are becoming more dangerous than ever. But in order to enforce the ordinance, they have to eliminate all gray areas -- and that includes school fundraisers and non-profit solicitations, such Fill the Boot campaigns, as well.

"I think you'll see more of the school organizations out when school is in session, but it's one of those things where if they see one person doing it, they think we must be able to do it too," said Garner.

City councilors will hear the motion to increase fines next week. But if it's passed, Coplen says he has no choice but to take the heightened risks that will come.

"Just got to take a chance because what else can we do? If we don't get out here and do what we need to do, how are we going to survive?" he said.

If passed by the city council, the revised ordinance could begin immediately. The maximum penalty could reach almost $300 for the first offense.

City prosecutors says there's help, though. The city does have programs in place for the homeless to help them get back on their feet and off the streets if they are cited.

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