Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Gig Harbor Bans Roadside Panhandling

by May 24th, 2011

SUMMARY: The Gig Harbor City Council last night approved an ordinance making it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail for panhandlers to solicit drivers on public roadways. City officials believe there’s a safety hazard posed by the presence of panhandlers and their signage alongside freeway exit ramps and when they approach or interact with drivers or passengers. Several community-based non-profit organizations in Pierce County and Gig Harbor area minister to the needs of the homeless and hungry.

BACKGROUND: City officials have become concerned about the traffic safety risks they say are created when panhandlers at the edge of freeway off-ramps adjacent to State Route 16 solicit occupied vehicles for cash donations. City Administrator Rob Karlinsey says risks of a rear-end collision are heightened; and that additional safety risks are created because panhandlers’ signs are a distraction for drivers which may take their eyes off the road, and because panhandlers are stepping into traffic. Prior to an expected vote on the Gig Harbor roadside panhandling ordinance, Steve Fetbrandt reported yesterday in Gig Harbor Patch that some observers believe the panhandlers are doing no harm. Nonetheless, the Gig Harbor City Council last night by a vote of 6-1 passed an ordinance making their activity a misdemeanor crime. It will go into effect on June 6, 2011.

KEY LINK: Memo from police chief and ordinance prohibiting solicitations to occupied vehicles on public roadways, Gig Harbor City Council; (ordinance approved May 23, 2011).


  • In the last few years there’s been an influx of regular, weekday panhandlers at Point Fosdick Drive and Olympic Drive in Gig Harbor, adjacent to State Route 16 because of the abundant commuter traffic. Panhandlers “distract drivers with their signage and are creating a safety hazard when entering lanes to secure funds donated by drivers and passengers…”
  • “Drivers approached by pedestrians may…stop suddenly, or may linger at traffic control devices thereby posing a significant risk of physical injury to themselves, other motorists, and pedestrians…”
  • It will be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail, for anyone on public property adjacent to or on a public roadway in Gig Harbor to conduct a solicitation of the occupant of any vehicle.
  • Non-profit organizations will still be able to secure special event permits from the city to solicit donations from drivers for special annual fundraisers, such as the muscular dystrophy day organized by local firefighters.


Resources for the homeless and hungry in Pierce County and the Gig Harbor area

Peninsula Communities Of Faith

Rescue Mission, Tacoma

FISH Food Banks of Pierce County

Matt Rosenberg is founder and editor of Public Data Ferret, a project of the non-profit Public Eye Northwest.

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