"I have every right to give anyone I want money"Matt Evans realized Flagstaff's efforts to criminalize panhandling had reached new heights (lows?) when a police officer intercepted him as he tried to hand a $10 bill to a homeless family in a supermarket parking lot.
"These people are breaking the law," Evans said the officer told him. She said that giving the money would be akin to facilitating a crime.
Stunned, the 34-year-old PhD candidate looked again at the homeless couple with two young children in tow.
"I have every right to give anyone I want money," Evans told the officer. He handed the cash to the family and drove away with his wife, 3-year-old son and their groceries.
Flagstaff officers have arrested an estimated 135 people over the course of a year on suspicion of loitering to beg. In some cases, they've been jailed.
Evans' story and the arrests sparked a lawsuit in June by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona against the city of Flagstaff, accusing municipal leaders of unconstitutionally driving beggars off the streets and criminalizing peaceful panhandling in public places.
Although Arizona mirrors a national trend of municipalities and states creating or invoking laws to deter panhandling and control movements of the homeless, enforcement in the Grand Canyon State has been exceptionally aggressive, said Heather Maria Johnson, civil rights director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
Read the Los Angeles Times story here.