Newly elected northeast side Councilman Clayton Perry says it is time to tackle the seemingly unresolvable issue of what to do about increasingly annoying streetcorner panhandlers, and the homeless who are beginning to become a public safety hazard across the city, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Perry says besides being disruptive for drivers, panhandlers many times place their lives at risk by jumping around from vehicle to vehicle at busy intersections at the middle of fast moving traffic.
A commission named by Perry, headed by former District 10 Council candidate Diana Kenny, will examine several options, including smoothing the way for non profits and churches to help with homeless shelters to help deal with the problem of panhandling.
The San Antonio Police Department has established special teams of officers and social service workers in the past year to approach the homeless who are 'camping' in the city and engaging in panhandling to steer them toward services.
Trespassing laws have also been extended so beggars can be arrested, for example, on the rights of way of highways, and in front of downtown businesses. Previously, the business owner had to phone in a specific complaint before a panhandler could be arrested.
In addition to the very visible problem of streetcorner panhandling, bums are blamed for a series of fires in vacant houses in recent months, amid growing signs that they, sometimes along with drug dealers, and squatting in the empty structures.
Many efforts to use law enforcement to deal with panhandling have been overturned by courts who say begging in public is the legal exercise of First Amendment rights.
Perry's predecessor, Mike Gallagher, maintained that panhandlers are not needy or homeless at all, but are part of professional begging 'gangs, which set up at busy street corners to try to 'guilt' gullible motorists into forking over their cash.