City leaders lay out plan to deal with St. Augustine panhandlers

Concerned residents voice opinions at town hall meeting

By Corley Peel - Reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Officials with the city of St. Augustine addressed the community's ongoing panhandling issue during a town hall meeting Thursday at City Hall

St. Augustine residents, like Michael Lyman, came to voice their concerns and find out how the city plans to combat panhandlers. 

“I moved down here 2½ years ago, and I’ve just seen it get worse and worse,” Lyman said.

City leaders said that they can’t implement a no-panhandling law because legally that would interfere with First Amendment rights, but they have other ideas for how to move panhandlers out of the city. 

According to a police survey, panhandlers, who are actually mostly from out of state, need housing, their physical needs met and help finding jobs. 

Residents are concerned because the ongoing panhandling issue has impacted businesses. 

“We have had a few issues here and there with our guests being harassed by people at the plaza and other stops,” said Kim Kiff with Ripley's properties. “Some of our guests have been in fear for their safety.”

City leaders said they plan to combat panhandling in three ways:

  1. Rewrite the city’s panhandling ordinance
  2. Develop education programs so people can donate to organizations to help homeless panhandlers 
  3. Increase police presence

Many people at the meeting agree that more law enforcement is needed. 

“I’ve seen people say foul things to little girls and start fights, and so I’m really concerned about what’s going on,” Lyman said.

Lyman said that he just hopes the city’s plan will keep the panhandlers away. 

City leaders said they plan to have an update about the rewritten ordinance next week, adding that despite suggestions from some, it will not include a law that would make it illegal to give panhandlers money.

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