Homelessness still ongoing problem in St. Augustine

Despite ordinance, panhandling continues in nation's oldest city

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A struggle with a moving target is burdening the nation's oldest city.

Homelessness and vagrancy on the streets of St. Augustine continues even after an ordinance was passed in March to limit where people can solicit for money.

The ordinance, which went into effect in April, prohibits panhandling within 20 feet of business entries and exits, bus and trolley stops, ATMs, parking lots, parking meters and public restrooms owned by the city.

Since then, much of the city's massive homeless population has moved from one area to another, leaving business owners searching for a fair solution.

With the homeless population visible along busy St. George Street, some worry that the issue isn’t getting any better.

"It's a shocker," said visitor Julissa Lugo. "In Miami, I don't really see them as much."

Visitors to the downtown historic district told News4Jax on Monday that the homeless problem is apparent.

“I don’t know what is the solution. It could be a little political," said Giorgio Barbi, who was visiting from Alabama. "But there is also some effort from local social organizations that can do something more.”

With the city ordinance in place, many panhandlers moved away from tourist hot spots, trying to avoid being cited by police. But some business owners said they didn't go far.

St. Augustine's Lincolnville area, near Washington and Bridge streets, has attracted many of those transients. The St. Francis House crisis shelter is located in the area. A few feet away is where Dining with Dignity sets up to give out free meals each night.

“For some reason, now they’ve set up camp down Washington Street directly across from St. Francis," said Doug Murr, owner of Dog Rose Brewing Company, at the corner of Washington and Bridge streets. "Just right outside my driveway is pretty much where they stay all day.”

Murr said many vagrants are taking advantage of homeless resources and aren't working to get off the streets. 

“If they’re sleeping out there, they don’t want them in St. Francis House because they’re unruly or drunk or whatever it is," Murr said. "Then they’re not getting the help they need.”

Murr said he’s witnessed blatant drug activity and violence among some of the homeless -- right on the street.

It’s a problem he, the city and visitors are hoping to see solved.

Under the ordinance, if panhandlers are spotted within the prohibited areas, they can be cited by police. Still, many in St. Augustine said the problem has only persisted.