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Saratoga Springs sidewalk ordinance makes sense

Saratoga Springs sidewalk ordinance makes sense

A lot of people opposed to Saratoga Springs' new ordinance against sitting or lying on the sidewalk

A lot of people opposed to Saratoga Springs' new ordinance against sitting or lying on the sidewalk are reacting as if this is some kind of government intrusion on their rights or an attack on homeless people.

It is nothing of the sort.

The new legislation is a legitimate, common and reasonable response to the influx of aggressive panhandlers and others who deliberately block the sidewalks where people are trying to walk.

It does nothing to interfere with people's constitutional rights and it does nothing to either hurt or help homeless people.

Since when do we automatically recoil at anything that smacks of common sense?

Ask yourself, who wants to visit a city where you stumble over people lying in the streets? And what businesses would want to locate there? Don't shoppers and visitors and business operators have a right to move about freely without the risk of tripping over people lying at their feet?

This law is just about a city taking a necessary and moderate step to ensure the vibrancy and legitimacy of its downtown business district, which -- opponents might remember -- provides significant economic and tax benefits to the city for the benefit of all.

The ordinance allows police to issue a warning to people lying or sitting on the sidewalks. It then imposes small but increasing fines for repeat offenders. Nothing wrong with that.

Other cities around America faced with increased aggressive panhandling have passed similar laws. But some go even further, preventing solicitors from approaching vehicles, making it illegal to block the progress of someone walking on the street or using abusive language toward someone, and discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers, instead setting up donation stations for people to give to anti-homelessness efforts. These might be Saratoga Springs' next steps if this law doesn't help.

And don't buy the unintended-consequence arguments some opponents have put forth. No artists are going to be arrested for drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. You're not going to get arrested sitting on the curb watching a parade. If you want to hold a seance, go elsewhere.

In those circumstances, common sense should prevail. If people are tripping over a guy drawing on the sidewalk, that person should go elsewhere on their own or should be asked if to move. What's so unreasonable about that? Is there a constitutional right to draw on public sidewalks now?

The city's homeless problem might overlap with the issue of people lying on the sidewalks, but homelessness requires more comprehensive solutions that the city must be ready to take.

Getting people into private homes and shelters is one obvious step, but not all homeless people have places to go or are willing to stay in shelters. Social programs to get people mental health assistance, medical care, food, clothing, employment and other benefits are available, and should be expanded to meet the community's needs.

You wouldn't think you'd need to pass a law against sitting or lying on the sidewalk.

But when you do, you pass one.

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