ORANGE PARK, Fla. – It’s Jacksonville’s busiest stretch of road and News4Jax viewers are sounding off saying that panhandling is a major issue along Blanding Boulevard near Interstate 295.
This has been an ongoing issue for years, according to some viewers, but now some say it’s gotten even worse with panhandlers regularly at almost every intersection.
The area is primarily just north of the Duval-Clay County line. Members of the News 4 Clay County Facebook group sounded off on this issue by the hundreds.
Here are a few of the comments:
- “I work down there and it is BAD!!! it’s like new one’s keep popping up from nowhere. Something really needs to be done.”
- “Some of those people are single moms and fathers who have fallen on hard times in this pandemic.”
- “I work at the Olive Garden there it’s getting bad.”
- “There has been a significant increase in that area in the last year. Some are aggressive and will knock on your window.”
News4Jax spoke with one man who says he’s homeless and lives in the woods behind a gas station.
“Me and my friend, we built a treehouse out here,” said 31-year-old Mikey Charek. He added multiple other people live in those same woods.
One issue that’s popped up is the enforcement of any criminal issues that may arise.
Since the area straddles the county line it affects both Clay and Duval. News4Jax reached out to city and law enforcement agencies in both counties.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office told News4Jax that it responds if there’s ever any criminal activity reported on the Clay County side but there’s no law against standing on the side of the road. Things become illegal if someone impedes traffic or does anything threatening toward a driver.
News4Jax also spoke with Jacksonville City Council member Randy DeFoor about the Duval side of the issue.
“Well the problem with panhandling is that there are… it falls under what people consider First Amendment rights,” said DeFoor. “The JSO is working now with the council to try and come up with a better solution.”
DeFoor said she was unable to provide particulars on any potential solution at this time.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office issued a statement to News4Jax on the issue:
While investigating the issue, News4Jax was alerted to many other areas where this is a problem such as the next interchange along I-295 for US 17.
The Department of Transportation told News4Jax it’s the second busiest stretch “non-interstate/non-limited access roadway” in the region right behind Blanding.