Palm Beach Co., FL nixes anti-panhandling ordinance proposal FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 28 May 1998 17:07:02 -0700 (PDT),1136,4000000000033846,00.html
FWD  May 27, 1998  Sun-Sentinel [South Florida]

     By Mitch Lipka - Staff Writer

People looking for handouts at Palm Beach County intersections should not
be prohibited by law from soliciting money from motorists, county
commissioners decided on Tuesday.

For months, county staff had been looking into complaints about begging ban
decision commissioners whether they wanted to adopt an ordinance
prohibiting the practice.

Difficulty and the cost of enforcing a law restricting panhandlers and a
fear of the civil rights lawsuits sure to follow stopped commissioners from
cracking down.

"How do you enforce it," Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson said. "How do
you make it happen? Are the deputies there to fight crime or are the
deputies there to stop the panhandlers?"

Although they were reluctant to take Commissioner Warren Newell's lead and
legislate against panhandling, commissioners indicated an interest in
discouraging the practice.

Included under the heading "panhandler" were firefighters asking for change
for charity, children raising money for their sports teams and the many
other groups that clutter intersections looking for a buck.

Commissioner Mary McCarty suggested a public relations campaign urging
people not to give money to panhandlers. Making the medians unusable for
panhandling by putting up poles was another idea McCarty offered. But the
county should not spend a lot of money, she said.

Newell said his concerns were for the safety of the panhandlers.

It is an issue born from citizen complaints about having people with their
hands out at almost every major intersection in unincorporated Palm Beach
County from Atlantic Avenue north.

"Do I want them off the corner? Yes," Newell said. "There's no question
that I do. It's just not appropriate."

Mike Edmondson, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, suggested
tougher laws in the counties south of Palm Beach have pushed the homeless

"The goal should be to displace these individuals," he said. "They can go
back to Broward. They can go back to Dade."

While many of the panhandlers are chronic homeless who crave money for a
drink but resist offers of work or shelter, others are simply fleecing the
public, law enforcement officials said.

Sheriff's Capt. Ed Bieluch said some panhandlers who claim to be stranded
or homeless actually drive to their intersections and carry props such as
crutches or a sleeping bag to advance their cause.

But that, he said, should not obscure the needs of the homeless. Bieluch
and social service officials say the county does not have the shelter space
to help those in need.

Commissioners also discussed asking planning and zoning staff to come up
with a more rigid county sign law to prevent ugly signs from cluttering
roadsides, and they also asked the staff to consider architectural
standards for commercial buildings, which is already done in many cities.


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