Faith community reacts to panhandling ban

Police chief says churches will be exempt

SAN ANTONIO – Members of the city's faith community are keeping an eye on a controversial proposal from San Antonio Police Chief William McManus that would outlaw giving food and money to panhandlers.

If passed, violators would be ticketed and subject to a fine of up to $500.

"Why should it be legal for you to help somebody break the law? For me this whole issue is about discontinuing addictive behavior," McManus said. "By giving money to people standing on the corner illegally, or legally, panhandling, you're perpetuating or enabling their addictive behavior."

Under current city code panhandling is prohibited within 50 feet of ATMs, banks, parking garages, crosswalks, charitable contribution meters, parking meters/pay stations, bus stops, outdoor dining areas and marked crosswalks.

But people of faith are concerned that the ban would force them to choose between charitable giving and breaking the law.

Jaime Renteria, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church, said panhandlers are constantly stopping by the church to ask for money and food.

"We only give clothes and food, but no money," said Renteria. "We don't know what happens with this money. Sometimes it's (spent on) drugs and alcohol."

Renteria said if the law passes it is his responsibility to educate his congregation on the new law.

"I'll say to my parishioners, 'Don't give them money.' If there are people in need they need to explain (their situation) and we give them food," he said.

On Tuesday, McManus said churches would be exempt from the law because they are providing a service, but individuals who give are facilitating illegal activity.

"Panhandlers on corners who are illegally panhandling, use (money) to buy alcohol and buy drugs," McManus said. "If you knew that, if you know that, and understand that, why would you give money to a panhandler? There are ways to give to people who are homeless, but handing someone a buck, or $2, or $5 on the street you might as well hand them a can of beer out the window."

Renteria said he plans to keep a close eye on the proposal, but he said if it's passed it will put a spotlight on city and religious organizations that offer assistance to the homeless and impoverished.