August 17, 2013

Laid-back Portland panhandler gets creative

As a city ban takes effect, a man trades his spot between lanes of traffic for a shady patch of grass, but he's out of luck.

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

When the Portland City Council banned panhandlers from perching on roadway medians, a rule that took effect Thursday, most of them moved to street corners and other places.

click image to enlarge

A homeless man named Joe, who declined to give his last name, sleeps in the shade in Deering Oaks Park on Friday, August 16, 2013, behind his prop to collect change at the corner of Marginal Way and Forest Avenue. Joe made the prop in response to the city's new ordinance that prohibits panhandling in medians.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

A homeless man named Joe, who declined to give his last name, made a prop to collect change at the corner of Marginal Way and Forest Avenue Friday, August 16, 2013, in response to the city's new ordinance of not allowing panhandlers in medians.

Gabe Souza / Staff Phoptographer

Yet on Friday, at the busy intersection of Marginal Way and Forest Avenue, a popular pre-ban spot for panhandling, a single change cup remained.

Affixed to a metal hand truck and propped up by a stick, three chopped-up plastic bottles arced toward the lines of cars whizzing by, a Subway cup extending to the curb's edge. A few steps away, the cup's owner, a 39-year-old African immigrant named Joe snoozed under a pine tree, waiting for the donations to roll in.

"I'm not trying to antagonize anyone. I'm just trying to get by," said Joe, who declined to give his last name. Joe used to lean on his four-footed cane between the lanes of Marginal Way, only adopting the automated approach after police gave him the boot. 

"They say its OK from here," read the sign on the makeshift donation collector, a nod to the new ordinance. 

Some days, before the ban, Joe would make between $15 and $30, he said Friday, while munching on an oatmeal raisin cookie. Since he hurt his back in 2005, he said he has been unable to work, and has slowly slid into poverty. Most nights he stays at one of the city's shelters. 

No one was cited for violating the ban on the first day of its implementation, according to police, who said enforcement would begin with verbal warnings. Authorities reasoned that standing between lanes of traffic posed a safety risk, especially as the practice became more widespread. 

Joe's new tactic may have been creative, but it wasn't successful. He waited several hours near his mechanical panhandler on Friday, but no passing motorists tossed in any money, Joe said.

"It's not a situation where I'm trying to make a point about how you can't do this or you can't do that. (The ordinance) went through the process and was voted on," he said. "That's the process." 

Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303 or at:


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