Panhandlers need help, not jail, fines

By issuing a restraining order barring enforcement of Cranton’s anti-panhandling ordinance, U.S. District Court Judge William Smith has thrown the ball back into Mayor Allan Fung’s court.

Judge Smith joins a growing list of federal judges who have ruled that anti-panhandling ordinances amount to restrictions on the First Amendment rights of those reaching out for financial help.

It is time for Cranston, and any other city looking to enact anti-panhandling ordinances, to shift focus and look to deal with the underlying causes of the panhandling in the first place.

For starters, there is unemployment, or jobs that don’t pay enough to support a family. There is also the issue of homelessness, as well as mental illness.

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Late last summer Providence engaged in a spirited debate about the issue, and the process is not over. But at least Mayor Jorge O. Elorza put forth a plan at the time to help connect individuals in the streets with community resources that will more directly deal with the underlying issue. Any other approach is rightfully unconstitutional.