Lakewood tells residents to ‘keep the change’ in push against panhandling

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LAKEWOOD — Is it better to keep change in your pocket than to give it to panhandlers on the streets?

City-sanctioned signs that will be popping up around Lakewood in the next few months say yes.

Signs encouraging resident to “Keep the change” and “Say no to panhandling” will be placed at key intersections around the city, officials said in a release.

A panhandling sign going up in Lakewood.

The signs will encourage people to donate to local charities instead of pulling change or cash out of their pocket when approached for money.

“Often times an increase in trash, food products and even hypodermic needles are found at locations where panhandlers frequent,” city officials said. “Left-behind food products can lure domestic and wild animals searching for food; the increased trash at the city’s major intersections is unattractive.”

Officials said panhandling is often a choice, and many panhandlers continue to do it even after they’re offered help from the city.

“Resources for those in need have always been available,” a city release said. “Some people simply choose not to use them.”

The Washington State Supreme Court struck down portions of a Lakewood “anti-begging” ordinance in 2016. The law was called into question in 2012, when Robert Willis was cited under the city’s previous “aggressive begging” ordinance. Willis appealed his sentence of 90 days behind bars and fine of $1,000, and the panhandling ordinance that banned begging near public transportation, ATMs, and on-and-off ramps.

The ordinance was struck down by the state court as being “too broad.”

City officials say they worked with the ACLU to draft new legislation after parts of their panhandling ordinance was overturned. But an ACLU spokesperson said there was little collaboration, and the individual liberties organization said they “continue to be concerned about how the revised panhandling law is being used.”

Begging laws exist in other Washington cities including Issaquah, Des Moines, Marysville.

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