ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – City Manager John Regan presented research Monday night on what’s being done and what still needs to happen when it comes to the homeless population and panhandlers in St. Augustine.
A City Commission meeting included Regan’s special presentation and allowed for public comment, so that people could open up about their frustrations.
Many of the community members wanted answers on how St. Augustine plans to solve the issue.
Day or night, homeless people can be found in the historic downtown area.
“Downtown is important,” said BJ Kalaidi, who lives in St. Augustine. “But this city is made up of a lot of neighborhoods and some of the neighborhoods have panhandling going on.”
Regan discussed in detail how federal money could come through Flagler Hospital. He also said that the city relies on St. Francis House and Home Again St. Johns County to provide services for homeless.
“(The) federal government is not going to solve this, OK?” Kalaidi said. “You can throw the money at all of these problems (and) you're still not going to solve it.”
There was a lot of back-and-forth at the meeting. Police Chief Barry Fox also talked about how many officers he has to enforce laws surrounding sleeping in public.
Some people want more police officers, including Fox.
But Regan said St. Augustine also needs to revise its ordinance on panhandling, so police can legally stop people from aggressive begging on the streets.
When asked how he would change that, Regan said, “Our outside counsel, Michael Kahn, is going to recommend a program that is more of a distance and space program -- distance from critical services, ATMs (and) places where people are managing cash.”
Regan said St. Augustine spends about $65,000 on homelessness currently, and the city is working to help St. Francis House get back to full capacity of 12 men and 12 women by January.
“But I think the next steps become to work with the county administrator and become more (synchronized) with St. Johns County,” Regan said.
Recently, business owners have expressed concern about panhandlers driving away visitors on St. George Street and in the historic downtown area. Residents told News4Jax earlier this month that the number of panhandlers is increasing and they're concerned it could give the tourist destination a bad name.
Monday's meeting was held in the Alcazar Room of City Hall.