[Hpn] St. Augustine businesses push panhandling bill 06-14-01
Thu, 14 Jun 2001 07:40:00 -0400
Thursday, June 14, 2001
St. Augustine businesses push panhandling bill
By Alexa Jaworski
Times-Union staff writer
ST. AUGUSTINE -- City business owners are begging officials to
pass a law that would clamp down on panhandlers they say are scaring
The proposed ordinance is expected to be presented to the
commission June 25. It would prohibit panhandling in the core historic
downtown area -- including St. George Street, Charlotte Street and the
bayfront, which is about 10 percent of the total area of St. Augustine,
Attorney Jim Wilson said.
Some may argue that begging is a First Amendment right, but
Wilson said as long as another venue is provided -- and in this case, the
other venue would be the rest of the city -- he thinks the ordinance would
be constitutional. The proposal would reflect one passed in Fort
where officials outlawed begging in the city's tourist area along the
The issue was brought to the forefront a few weeks ago at a
Commission meeting by an innkeeper who said his customers complained to him
about being accosted by panhandlers.
"A growing number of customers at our properties tell us of
negative experiences they've had," said Joe Finnegan, owner-innkeeper of
Casa de Solana and St. Francis Inn. "We've had some who called us and
us to pick them up downtown because they felt threatened."
City Commissioner Raymond Connor said he supports creating the
ordinance and has had actual experiences of people coming up to him and
"We are having some problems in the historical area," he said.
"That is not good for the image of St. Augustine or any place."
Local homeless agencies and advocates said they generally
support the law.
Although not opposed to the proposal, Jean Harden, a member of
the board of directors for the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of
St. Johns County, said she would like to see officials find a solution to
the underlying problem.
"The panhandling law will stop the panhandling, but it will not
stop the need," she said. "The men are hungry, they need money to call home
or get a room for the night."
She said, however, that her agency doesn't encourage
Archie L. Williams Jr., executive director of St. Francis
which is the only homeless shelter in St. Johns County, called it "a
"I don't know why they didn't have it decades ago," he said,
adding that most of the time, panhandlers are not looking for money for
food. "Most of these people are able-bodied. There is no excuse for
in the street begging tourists, citizens or anyone else for money."
He added that if they are hungry, they could apply for food
stamps and that since he became director in 1994 he cannot think of anyone
who has been turned down for them.
City Police Chief David Shoar said until an ordinance is
approved, there is not much an officer can do unless a panhandler
"We've had some complaints and there seems to be an increase in
that," he said. "Oftentimed it's reported as a suspicious person, so it's
hard to determine if it's panhandling or not."
In Jacksonville, an ordinance prohibits aggressive begging or
panhandling anywhere in the city, aggressive meaning going up to people and
touching them or causing some kind of physical contact, blocking their way
or anything that is more than passively asking for money, said Larry
Pritchard, assistant state attorney and legal adviser for the Jacksonville
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