Omaha, NE.—As the debate over panhandling in Omaha heats up—public safety versus free speech— the mayor has weighed in as has the the ACLU.
Now listen to James Stanberry .
A self-described “sign holder”—he doesn’t think of himself as a panhandler— Stanberry can be found in southwest Omaha looking for hand-outs.
Among his signs: “TO UGLY TO PROSITUT (sic) ANYTHING WILL HELP THANK YOU,” and “LAID OFF 4 BOYS AND A WIFE TO FEED ANYTHING HELPS.”
Stanberry, born and raised near St. Louis, believes he has every right to stand in a narrow, busy highway median and ask for money.
And that’s what he was doing when he spoke to News Channel Nebraska (see full video interview above)—by the way he’s convinced his age will surprise you.
Stanberry: I do this to keep a roof over my head at the motel.
NCN: How long are you out here during the day?
Stanberry: During the day, probably six hours.
NCN: Six hours.
Stanberry: Off and on.
NCN: Why not try to get a job at McDonald’s?
NCN: In the six hours you’re out here, how much money do you make?
Stanberry: I make probably about 70.
NCN: $70 in six hours. That’s over $10 an hour which is more than some of the fast food places pay. Do you do this as a last resort?
Stanberry: Yea, I’m down to picking pennies. I go around picking pennies up off the ground.
NCN: Do you ever consider going to one of the homeless shelters in town?
Stanberry: Ain’t in walking distance.
NCN: City Hall is looking at an ordinance that would make it illegal for you to be (on he median). They say it’s for safety reasons, you’re safety and other people’s safety. Do you buy that?
NCN: Do you think it’s a freedom of speech issue for you to be out there?
Stanberry: Yea, woman came across, jumped the median, took out a light pole and I was standing right between the light pole and her, so if I wouldn’t have jumped I would have been dead.
NCN: So its not all that safe out there?
Stanberry: Walking down the sidewalk is dangerous.
NCN: How old are you?
Stanberry: I look a lot older don’t I?
NCN: I was thinking that. You’ve had a rough life?
Stanberry: Rough ain’t the word for it. Mom beat us. Dad is somewhere. I’ve been out on these streets pretty much my entire adult life. Can’t, for some odd reason, can’t hold a damn job.
Mayor Jean Stothert’s proposed ordinance to keep the James’ of the world out of some of Omaha’s busiest intersections goes to the city council tomorrow (Tuesday) for a public hearing.
According to Stothert, “This ordinance attempts to minimize the risk to everyone who uses our city streets.”
The ACLU of Nebraska says any such ordinance “must strike a balance between respecting speech and ensuring public safety….We encourage city leaders to actively engage service providers, law enforcement and other stakeholders to meet the need for programs and services that support low-income Omahans.”