Panhandlers react to new ordinance as “Unlawful to Occupy Median” signs posted

Median Ordinance
The ordinance went into effect February 14, after the city council passed it with a unanimous vote. Crews are already getting to work on installing signs on medians that are prohibited from use. / Mike Duran -- FOX21 News

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A slew of medians in Colorado Springs are now off limits to pedestrians and panhandlers.

The ordinance went into effect February 14, after the city council passed it with a unanimous vote. Crews are already getting to work on installing signs on medians that are prohibited from use.

Opposers of the ordinance argue it’s picking on the homeless, however police say it’s strictly about safety.

FOX21 spoke with a man panhandling at the Platte and Academy on-ramp about why he thinks the new rules totally make sense.

“It’s kind of hard to find a job out here and with all my mental issues, I have bipolar [disorder], PTSD, manic depressant, ADHD, schizophrenia, short-term memory loss, a lot of disabilities and it’s hard for me to work with people,” said Robert Fortner.

Fortner is homeless and says he’s been panhandling since he was 18. He’s now 22 and still hitting the streets every day, trying to make enough money for him and his wife to get food and a motel room.

“We don’t use drugs. We don’t even smoke pot.” Fortner said, “We’ll just sit here and we’ll just enjoy the day of making money and trying to find jobs in construction or anything that I can find to support my family.”

Fortner also said he understands why the median ordinance is happening.

“Why can’t you just be sitting on a regular outbound or inbound traffic way where you can scoot out of the way if somebody is coming towards you or an ambulance even say comes towards you and they have to get through,” said Fortner. “What are you going to do you can’t move that quick off the median and try to get hit almost so why not just stay on an on-ramp or off-ramp?”

But whether or not people actually obey the signs is something Fortner says likely won’t happen.

The signs say “Unlawful to Occupy Median” and if it’s less than four-feet wide and on a road faster than 30 miles per hour, you’ll likely see them posted.

Fortner said, “I think it’s unfair that you know they sit there and risk people’s lives and driving careers.”

Police say they’re hoping everyone will comply, but if necessary officers will give out warnings. Violators could face up to a $500 dollar fine and/or probation.

As for Fortner, he says he’ll continue to post up at his usual spot until the day comes that he doesn’t have panhandle anymore.

“It’s better for me, I make more money and I’m able to feed my family so I provide,” said Fortner.

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