LAWTON, OK (KSWO) –You've probably seen panhandlers standing in the medians and near Lawton intersections, but one Lawton city councilman is pushing to get them off the street.
City Councilman Jay Burk brought the ordinance to the council for discussion next week, and says it was modeled after a similar ordinance that passed in Oklahoma City last year. The ordinance would ban everyone from being able to stand or sit in a median. Burk says he has gotten calls from citizens saying they are tired of seeing the panhandlers out there, and that it's a safety hazard.
Panhandler are usually on each of the medians on either side of Northwest Cache Road near Fort Sill Boulevard, holding signs and collecting money.
"I'm going to stand out here as long as I have to," said William Vogel, a panhandler.
Vogel says he stands near Northwest Cache Road and Fort Sill Boulevard for no more than an hour or two to get money for food and a place to stay the night. However, if the ordinance banning people from standing on the medians is approved, Vogel would have to look for help elsewhere.
"Even if they do ban it, it's not going to stop me from asking for help. I'm still going to be out here. I'm just going to do it in a different way. If I have to, I'll make a shirt that says 'I'm hungry' or whatever. It doesn't matter," Vogel said.
Councilman Burk says he has heard from citizens saying they have had bad experiences with panhandlers. Saying they would step off the medians and weave in and out of the road, knocking on car windows and asking people for money.
"And we sure don't want someone to get run over, we sure don't want to cause accidents because we've allow people to be in medians either," Burk said.
Vogel says he feels like the city is targeting him and others who are down on their luck, and says begging isn't something someone would want to do.
"I would think that nobody would want to. I mean, it's kind of embarrassing just to stand there saying you're hungry," Vogel said.
"Most of these people, in my opinion, it's a habitual thing…and it's gotten worse and worse and worse," Burk said.
Burk says it is the law that they cannot discriminate against a certain group of people, so the ban goes for everyone. A group or organization that had a permit to stand out in the median and collect donations would no longer be able to if the ordinance passes.
Burk says this median ordinance is just a first step. He says he is working on creating panhandler-free zones and another ordinance to keep people off the sidewalks next to the intersections.