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Beggars are adjusting to new downtown rules

But the council also has been under pressure from groups such as the Community Action Board to examine “unintended consequences” of other rules. Paul Brindel of CAB has argued that homeless, non-aggressive panhandlers could feel the brunt of rules aimed at obnoxious behavior.
Instant street musicians

<www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2002/September/15/local/stories/05local.htm>

Beggars are adjusting to new downtown rules

September 15, 2002
By DAN WHITE
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ - A day after new downtown rules kicked in, the avenue was buzzing with rumors about how it could change the street scene.
But the street was its usual over-the-top self Friday. In fact, the avenue was witnessing a new trend: longtime panhandlers suddenly transforming themselves into “street musicians” to skirt new space rules on begging.
Call it a quick-change spare-change act.
Craig Stout, 40, who is homeless, is a panhandler who used to hold up a sign saying “visions of a hamburger.” Now he’s a percussionist, and holds a sign saying he’ll drum for beef patties.
“That kind of screws me, and I never bother anyone,” he said, referring to the city’s recent decision to make sign-holding panhandlers subject to an existing after-dark begging ban. Stout said he needs every penny he gets.
He said he was annoyed, at first, that the City Council has delayed new space rules for money-seeking musicians but has gone ahead with enforcing laws that set new space limits on panhandlers. At least on paper the rules decrease the number of spaces where Stout and others stand.
But then an idea came to him. He started bringing a little drum to the avenue.
Stout’s plan may not work.
For one thing, he’s so well-known as a panhandler and part of the street scene that a couple of local stores “adopted” him. For another, he holds a sign. Technically, even a musician holding a spare-change sign is subject to the same space limitations as a panhandler.
The council recently tweaked the rules to exempt money-seeking street musicians from the after-dark begging ban. But the council also has been under pressure from groups such as the Community Action Board to examine “unintended consequences” of other rules. Paul Brindel of CAB has argued that homeless, non-aggressive panhandlers could feel the brunt of rules aimed at obnoxious behavior.
Another panhandler, “Desperate,” is also trying to be an instant music sensation. After years of standing with a sign, he appeared on the avenue holding a guitar-shaped synthesizer-style instrument called a Jaminator.
The Jaminator, which he said cost $150, wasn’t pulling in much dough Friday. Desperate, who said he is disabled from a car crash and from a fall off a roof, said he had just 7 cents as of 4:10 p.m.
But he said the Jaminator at least gives him an excuse to stand in a place where he’d otherwise be barred, propped against a recycled goods container.
Police officers were out on the street Friday, a day after ordinance revisions kicked in. The rules increased space limits on panhandlers and sidewalk sitters, and banned Hacky Sack and blocking sidewalks with possessions.
“There is definitely a educational transition period,” said Sgt. Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz police. He said late Friday he didn’t know how many infractions based on new rules had been issued that day, and police on the avenue said they couldn’t comment. Clark said that the most aggressive panhandlers would “absolutely” be a higher priority than nonaggressive beggars.
On Friday, there were are all different kinds of people on the street. A few blocks from Desperate and his Jaminator, there was a much younger crowd, sitting down along a planter.
“We’re doing nothing and get hassled,” one said.
It wasn’t entirely true that they were “doing nothing.” A young man who called himself T.J. said he made money through sales of an unspecified “illegal” substance. He said he hails from the Pacific Northwest and was housed there, but is homeless in Santa Cruz by choice.
Asked how he gets by, he reached into his coat pocket and took out a few small, empty baggies.
“But I don’t do that for now, not anymore, and I never have it on my person,” T.J. said, seeming to recant his previous statement. “And the cops hassle me all day.”
Some locals insist the avenue is cleaned up compared to how it used to look.
Satira Dalton, visiting downtown Friday, said she thinks the rules are being enforced already and have made a positive change.
“It’s cleaner, more of a tourist attraction,” she said. “Less people blocking the sidewalks. The panhandlers you still see don’t harass people as much.”
But there are strong differences of opinion. A longtime local who calls herself Silver Wolf, who emphasizes social contracts and personal responsibility over new rules, says she believes the city “cleaned the place up in June.”
She said the dope dealers mostly are gone anyhow.
“So why do we need more rules?”
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Contact Dan White at dwhite (at) santa-cruz.com
 
 


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