The state of Oregon publishes 19 rules about public behavior at its freeway rest areas, where panhandling is an everyday part of life.
GRANTS PASS — The state of Oregon publishes 19 rules about public behavior at its freeway rest areas, where panhandling is an everyday part of life.
The rules, which are intended to "to preserve state property and increase health and safety in rest areas" are silent on the matter of public begging.
"In those rules, there is nothing that addresses panhandling," said Madeline MacGregor of the Oregon Travel Information Council. "What we do is interpret the rules as best we can."
That means no aggressive panhandling, as far as the council is concerned. Someone holding a sign announcing their plight is OK.
"There actually are no laws on panhandling on public property," MacGregor said. "As long as nobody is harassing anybody."
MacGregor spoke in the wake of news accounts about council employees constructing a day-use dog shelter at the northbound Manzanita rest area, north of the Merlin interchange. The dog house was seen as a way to get dogs belonging to panhandlers away from people who are using restrooms and other rest area amenities.
The council, a state agency, maintains and operates several rest areas in Oregon.
"There's a list of 'thou shalt nots,'" said Mark Grinde, supervisor at the rest area. "That particular one (panhandling) is not there."
Among the 19 prohibitions outlined in Oregon Administrative Rules, people are not allowed to:
Block access to restrooms. Allow dogs to run loose. Use restrooms for bathing or dish washing. Camp or remain for more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period. Behave in a manner "which interferes with the reasonable use of the rest area by other rest area visitors."
Grinde said he is not aware of any citations handed out by Oregon State Police for aggressive panhandling at local rest areas, since his organization took over supervision a year ago.
Keith Merrill, who is a longtime frequent panhandler at the rest area, said he is careful about how he seeks handouts, and that he has constitutional rights to free speech.
"As long as I'm not harassing people," Merrill said Monday at the rest area. "I let my sign do my talking."
"I tell them, 'Good morning.' I never ask for money. I tell them I'm trying to eat."
"You never ask them for anything," Merrill's friend, Anita Brazille, said. "I say, 'I'm homeless. I'm hungry.'"
A passer-by, Jim Lawrence of Medford, gave Merrill a donation.
"I saw a need," Lawrence said a few moments later.
Lawrence, a recovering alcoholic, said he usually doesn't hand out money, because he didn't want it going to buy alcohol or drugs.
"I'll buy them a meal or buy them a soda," he said.
Kevin Smolich, who works with Grinde, said panhandlers are not to approach people in their vehicles.
"They're not allowed to verbally say, 'Do you have some money?' Then that's harassment."