Panhandling

Recognizing that panhandling is community-wide program that adversely impacts our cities, neighborhoods and businesses, the cities of Arlington and Marysville are asking residents and visitors to keep their wallets closed to panhandlers. A new community resource flyer (PDF) provides information tips for people who want to help those in need along with a list and map of free resources for people who need hot meals, groceries and/or clothing.

“When you give money to a panhandler, you can’t know how it will be spent,” said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring. “When you want to donate, please consider giving to a local charity instead.” Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert added, “We all want to feel safe in our community. Giving to organizations, rather than to panhandlers, helps ensure that homeless residents can get the help they need.”

The resource handout is available at both City Halls (238 North Olympic Avenue, Arlington and 1049 State Avenue, Marysville).

Arlington’s Approach to Panhandling, Opioid Addiction, & Homelessness

Let us be frank: panhandling is legal in the United States. Our Constitution protects the rights of citizens to assemble (gather on street corners) and of free speech (display signs). In July 2014, the City adopted a new law on pedestrian interference, panhandling, and unlawful camping. In November and December 2014, the city received letters from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressing their concerns about our new laws, especially with the panhandling portions of the laws. Their primary concern was that our laws, when enforced, would violate a panhandler’s First Amendment right of free speech, as upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2015.

Changes to Law

After a number of meetings with the ACLU, the City Council revised our laws to comply with Supreme Court rulings. These changes to the law were made in April 2015. The Mayor’s role in adopting these revised laws was solely to preside over the meetings in which City Council took action.

Arlington and Marysville are working together to develop solutions to address homelessness and opioid addiction that are affecting all of Puget Sound. Please note that the panhandling laws in place in the City of Arlington are the same laws adopted by the City of Marysville and other cities in the county. One area we are focusing on is behaviors that are causing traffic problems. Other suggestions, such as prohibiting loitering, regulating the content of signs, or prohibiting panhandling, are judged as infringing upon the right of free speech or right to assemble.

Problem Area

Cities that are seeing improved outcomes on reducing panhandling have focused on working collaboratively with businesses to educate where and how to give, and by educating the public that giving money to panhandlers can be part of the problem. One of the largest challenges with this is educating those who travel through the area on SR 531 (172nd Street North East) between Lakewood Crossing and the Arlington Walmart. According to 2015 data from the Washington State Department of Transportation, over 31,000 vehicles travel through the 27th Avenue North East intersection (Lakewood Crossing) on a daily basis. That number is 24,000 vehicles at the intersection with 43rd Avenue North East (Arlington Walmart). Bringing education to tens of thousands of people on better ways to give is a huge job.

Help Address Homelessness

We encourage everyone our community to do one of the following things to help address homelessness:

  • Volunteer at a shelter, food bank, or the Arlington Community Resource Center
  • Advocate for additional resources for the homeless and drug-addicted to your state and federal elected officials
  • Donate to local charities (PDF) that serve those in need (please do not give money directly to panhandlers)
  • Donate to the City of Arlington Social Services Flex Fund
  • Educate yourself and others about the ways to help

Survey Information

Arlington has recently completed a survey of our community and service providers to identify what is most needed and least available in Arlington. This information, when released in a few months, will help us target specific solutions to close the gaps in services. Arlington Police and Arlington Fire already regularly attempt one-on-one contact with the opioid addicted and homeless in our community to get them connected with available services and treatment. An update on the work completed so far was featured in the Arlington Times.