Local News

Council bans panhandling in downtown Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The Colorado Springs City Council voted 8-1 in it's first reading Tuesday to ban solicitation in the central business zone downtown. It comes after months of discussion and a colorful city council meeting that lasted nearly eight hours.

The ordinance will ban panhandling in a twelve block area, and city officials hope the new law will be in effect before Thanksgiving. Councilman Val Snider was the only council member to oppose the ban.

"This is one of the top priorities for the business community: to make our downtown economically viable," said Bob Cope, with the Colorado Springs Economic Vitality Dept. "It's the first step in creating the downtown renaissance we all want to see."

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Police Chief Pete Carey also spoke in favor of the ordinance, mentioning residents who have reported being continuously and aggressively approached by beggars downtown.

There were also plenty of people who spoke against the ordinance. One man, Eric Verlo, got out his guitar, starting singing and refused to stop.

"They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead. Why should I be standing in line just waiting for bread?" sang Verlo before police officers came to the podium in attempt to make him stop.

Chris Wynkoop, who told KRDO Newschannel 13 that he lives in a van, said to council: "It seems to me the definition of a crime is when someone takes something from you by force and you don't want it."

Others said the city wasn't addressing the root problem of poverty.

There were also some people who live and own businesses on the westside who worried that the ordinance would only push more panhandlers to their part of the city.

"All we hear about is downtown this, downtown that," said one woman. "We are being forgotten about on the westside."

"We take (panhandlers) from downtown, they're not going to be there, where are they going to go?" asked a business owner.

City Attorney Chris Melcher said that citywide solicitation bans have been ruled unconstitutional in other cities

Colorado Springs already has a citywide ban on aggressive solicitation, which means any panhandler who won't take no for answer is breaking the law no matter where it happens in the city.

Some said that it seemed CSPD isn't adequately enforcing that ban on aggressive solicitation and, if officers did so, there would be no need for an ordinance specific to downtown.

City council will finalize the ordinance with a vote on November 27.

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