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Homeless Advocates Sue Sacramento County Over Aggressive Panhandling Law

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Panhandlers claim they aren’t hurting anyone and just want to make a few dollars, but Sacramento County says it’s become a public safety issue.

A new law is already having an impact, as you’ll find fewer panhandlers at Howe Avenue and Arden Way. But a pending lawsuit could bring them back.

“You have to constantly move around day to day from place to place. It’s frustrating and just hard,” said panhandler Kevin Harris.

He says he and his wife are forced to find other ways to scrap together change ever since the county started cracking down on panhandling.

“The police have forced everybody away from holding signs so now everybody is recycling and there is barely any recycling left,” he said.

But the fight isn’t over. Civil rights attorney Mark Merin is filing a lawsuit to erase Sacramento County’s aggressive panhandling ordinance.

“The effect on people that are on the bottom of the totem pole is catastrophic because there is no place for someone who wants to solicit funds can go now,” he said.

The attorney says the law violates the First Amendment because the county ordinance allows some groups to ask for money but not the homeless.

“It says you can get out on the corner and solicit to for a charity, but if you are soliciting to support yourself that is prohibited,” he said.

County staff wouldn’t comment on the pending litigation, but Supervisor Don Nottoli defends the law as a public-safety issue.

“There are constitutional protections for folks to approach one another and ask for certain assistance,” he said. “On the other hand when there’s aggressive behaviors, people may feel uncomfortable, intimidated or threatened.”

The county ordinance says aggressive panhandling near ATMs, medians and gas stations is not allowed.

But groups like the Sacramento Homeless Organization Committee claims it impacts them as well. They allow the homeless to sell newspapers instead of begging for change.

“These folks are just at that point where they need help and their getting it from the public and the public is obviously willing to give it to them,” Merin said.

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