By Steve Schering
Amid pressure from numerous organizations, the village of Oak Park has officially repealed its seldom-enforced panhandling ordinance.
Ordinance 17-1-26 had been in effect in Oak Park since at least 1981. It was officially repealed by the village board during a unanimous vote Oct. 1. With the vote, the line “it shall be unlawful to beg” has been officially removed from the village code.
“For about 30 years, the village has had this language, but it has been consistently determined by the courts that it really isn’t the right way to handle begging and panhandling,” Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said. “The American Civil Liberties Union has been consistently working with municipalities to remove the language.”
In late August, the ACLU, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty sent letters challenging ordinances against panhandling to 15 Illinois municipalities, including Oak Park.
“No one wants to see poor people have to beg for money,” National Law Center attorney Eric Tars said in August. “But until all their basic needs, food, healthcare and housing, are met, they have a right to ask for help.”
Shortly after receiving the letter, Oak Park spokesman David Powers said the village attorney began reviewing the ordinance in preparation for a revision.
Pavlicek said the ordinance was rarely enforced by police in recent years, with officers choosing to deal with panhandling cases in a more sympathetic way.
“As staff, we are happy to recommend to the board that we repeal the language,” Pavlicek said. “The police department has really not enforced this in a number of years because of concerns of free speech. They really work to provide services and approach the situation much differently in a proactive way.”
In voting to repeal the ordinance, Oak Park Trustee Dan Moroney offered a suggestion to help potential donors ensure their money is going to a reputable cause. He noted some towns have installed “giving meters” in their downtown areas.
“One line of thinking is money given to the homeless is better given to an organization like Housing Forward or Pads,” Moroney said. “It provides services to the homeless, and there’s a lot of people who want to give but want to give to the right source.”
A message left with Housing Forward seeking comment about Moroney’s suggestion was not immediately returned.
Other trustees appeared to favor Moroney’s idea, which he felt could be a win for local charitable organizations and people looking to get rid of their spare change.
“These are parking meters that would be converted to something that delineates them from a normal parking meter and [people] can put money directly into the meter,” Moroney said. “Those meters can be given over to [those organizations] and that organization is in charge of collecting the money and seeing what is best to do with the money they collect. It could be as easy as the village drilling a little hole in the ground and the arts commission making it look fancy.”
The village board approved the repeal of the village’s begging ordinance by a 6-0 vote. Trustee Andrea Button was absent.