Changes: Council hopes Vidor ordinance will reduce solicitation in the city

(Top row, from left) Council Member Gary Herrera, Council Member Ted David Slaug

The Vidor City Council voted April 13 to change an existing ordinance to reduce instances of solicitation in the city, making it safer and easier for citizens to do business there without being harassed, said Vidor Mayor Robert Viator.

Viator said an initiative to combat the growing number of solicitors, often referred to as “panhandlers,” started in 2012 after city leaders noticed the increase in people asking for money while standing near roadway intersections.

“We used to allow people and organizations to collect money around intersections, often for charitable causes,” Viator related. “But we have a lot more traffic than we used to have. Now, it’s a safety hazard. So in 2012, we passed an ordinance making it illegal to solicit from the roadway.”

The measure helped, said Viator, but soon many of the people who had been begging for money in the streets moved to the parking lots of local businesses. And, the mayor explained, some of them were not being very nice about it.

“In the last year or so, we started getting more complaints from businesses about panhandlers in parking lots,” he asserted. “Many citizens feel threatened, intimidated or harassed by these aggressive solicitations. We want our citizens to feel free to go about their daily business. This ordinance change promotes public safety.”

Viator said the close vicinity of the Greyhound bus station, located at a truck stop in neighboring Rose City, is one reason for the increase in the number of solicitors in Vidor.

“They are not all homeless people,” Viator said of the solicitors. “We don’t have any big homeless campsites, like the tent cities they have in some other places. A lot of the offenders are traveling through or have stopped here. Since the bus station moved from Beaumont to Rose City, we have seen more solicitation in Vidor.”

During the most recent Vidor City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved changing the ordinance prohibiting roadway solicitation to extend to private parking lots, as long as the parking lots have proper signage warning solicitors to stay away.

“These parking lots are private property, but if the owners put ‘no soliciting’ signs up in the parking lots, the officers do not have to call the owner any time of the day or night to ask if they want to press charges,” explained Viator. “Now, they can take action immediately. The first time they catch someone soliciting, they give the person a citation. The second time, it’s a free trip to the Orange County Jail.”

And have no fear, said the mayor. Charitable organizations and other legitimate entities can request and often acquire permission from property owners to solicit contributions or sell their wares.

“Don’t worry! The Girl Scouts can still sell their cookies in front of local stores,” he promised. “They just have to get permission from the owner.”