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Veteran fights for right to panhandle
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Martin Shafer served his country during the Vietnam era from 1973-77. Today, he sits beside the street with a sign that reads, “Disabled Vet Anyting Helps.”
Shafer lives in North Dakota. Due to recent floods in that area, he was displaced and traveled to Warren County to stay with his son, Timothy.
“I guess you can say I was displaced,” Martin said. “I watched my trailer float away. I was only renting, but it was my home. Now, it’s gone.”
Time does not heal all pain of war. After suffering a back injury during service, time has increased the pain to the point he cannot sit or stand for long periods of time, Martin says.
“When the pain gets bad, I use this cane. I don’t have to use it all the time, just when it gets bad,” said Martin. “I can’t sit for long periods of time and I can’t stand for long periods of time.”
Unable to work, he filed for disability approximately four years ago. He has had three hearings and is still waiting for approval.
“I don’t want to be a burden on my son for everything, so I sit here,” said Shafer. “If someone has a $1 or $2 they can give me, that’s great. If they don’t, I tell them God bless you and they drive on. This is the only way I can make a little money to support myself.”
Shafer sits on a crate in the grassy area beside Sentosa Restaurant. He has been sitting there regularly for the last month.
“We have permission from the restaurant owner to be there,” said Shafer. “He’s a very nice man.”
Shafer says everything has been fine up until the last two weeks when officers from McMinnville Police Department informed him he can’t sit beside the street with his sign.
“One officer told me he would give me a citation that would cost me $50 and court costs would add another $100,” Martin said. “I didn’t want to argue, so I left.”
Timothy became so irritated by the situation he contacted McMinnville Police Chief Charlie Sewell.
“He was very nice to me,” said Timothy. “It’s not him in any way, shape or form. I would like to make that very clear. It is a couple of his officers. He asked me to give him 24 hours to look into the situation.”
He adds, “My father fought for our freedom and our rights. I wanted to fight for his. He just wants to sit here and hold his sign. He’s panhandling and there is nothing illegal about it. It’s protected under freedom of speech.”
A panhandler is a person who depends on the spontaneous generosity of strangers. Some states have attempted to ban panhandling. In 1996, the Oregon Supreme Court struck down a state law prohibiting panhandling along state roads, saying begging is protected speech.
After contacting the city’s legal counsel, attorney Tim Pirtle, and looking into state and local law, Chief Sewell agrees.
“The officers were acting in good faith, but there was a misinterpretation of Section 9 of the city ordinance,” said Sewell. “This section deals with nonprofit, charitable organizations and the issue at hand was an individual’s for-profit situation.”
Sewell says the officers were responding to three complaint calls against Shafer sitting beside the road.
“We received three calls from citizens on three different days in reference to the gentleman — one from an individual cellphone and two from businesses. That is why we went over on all three occasions. My officers were doing their job to the best of their knowledge and ability,” said Sewell.
Timothy says he appreciates the quick response by Sewell.
“Chief Sewell was very diligent and got the situation resolved quickly,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”
Many cities have passed ordinances restricting time, place or manner of begging, which is not a blanket ban on panhandling. McMinnville has no such ordinance.