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Panhandling signs in Fresno? Council votes on plan for business owners, city to post them

“Save Shaw Ave.” video suggests money given panhandlers feeds addiction

Local advocates in this video discuss how panhandlers differ from people living homeless and explain why people shouldn't give money to panhandlers. They contrast how homelessness and panhandlers have transformed Shaw Avenue over the decades.
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Local advocates in this video discuss how panhandlers differ from people living homeless and explain why people shouldn't give money to panhandlers. They contrast how homelessness and panhandlers have transformed Shaw Avenue over the decades.

The Fresno City Council on Thursday narrowly adopted a plan to use anti-panhandling signs throughout the city at the discretion of elected officials and private business owners.

With a 4-3 vote the council adopted the “Help Us, Help Fresno” sign program meant to discourage donating directly to panhandlers. It encourages residents to donate to programs that offer services to the homeless.

The plan to offer the signs failed to get enough votes in April, but on Thursday the newest face on the dais, newly elected Councilmember Mike Karbassi, helped supporters reach four votes.

Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias and Nelson Esparza opposed the program.

The new ordinance was brought to the elected body by Councilmember Garry Bredefeld. He said panhandling doesn’t help people living on the street, many of whom use drugs.

“It keeps them on the street. It doesn’t help,” Bredefeld said. “There are better ways to help.”

Detractors said the signs should have been redesigned to send a more positive message about helping the homeless and less fortunate.

A young woman in the audience held a handwritten sign that said “Stop criminalizing homelessness.”

Police Chief Jerry Dyer said he supported the signs.

The anti-panhandling signs have already been made available for business owners who want to buy them at a cost of $60-$65. The new ordinance allows councilmembers to use discretionary money to put them up on public roadways. Officials could also approve them for public roadways if business owners wanted to pay for them.

Signs already up around River Park

More than a half-dozen signs are already up in the River Park shopping area, according to Bredefeld. He said representatives from the River Park shopping center have data that show the signs work but those numbers were not available to the council before the vote.

Arias said the council should have had proof the program works before supporting it.

“We don’t have the data and we’re not allowed the access to data,” he said. “That creates a difficulty for me, when we’re setting citywide policy, not to have a right to basic information on whether or not this initiative has worked.”

Soria offers alternative sign

Three different votes on the signs failed before they were ultimately supported by the majority of the council. One of those alternatives came from Soria, who offered a different image of a sign. That sign put the emphasis on donating to charities rather than disparaging panhandling, she said.

The alternative would have done away with the circle and line, like those seen on a “No Smoking” sign, which encircles the panhandling image in the middle of the approved sign.

“I think there’s an opportunity to send a real positive message,” she said. “I think that if we’re going to approve something we’re going to put up in the entire city, we actually want the message to be on (the sign).”

Panhandling-related ordinances have been on the council’s agenda several times already this year.

The idea for the signs was first addressed by former Councilmember Steve Brandau, who also drew up a proposed ordinance that would have required police to write citations for anyone seen donating to a panhandler. The latter proposal failed in March.

Councilmember Luis Chavez noted the signs have to be approved by each respective district’s representative before they could go up. The elected leaders can talk to their individual residents and business owners and see what they want to do.

“This is probably one of the most innocuous ordinances we could possibly (adopt),” he said.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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