Jacksonville City Council member concerned about children being used to panhandle

Councilman Al Ferraro holds meeting to discuss panhandling-related issues, options

There’s a push from City Hall to stop aggressive panhandling that has seemingly picked up at multiple major intersections all over Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – There’s a push from City Hall to stop aggressive panhandling that has seemingly picked up at multiple major intersections all over Jacksonville.

News4JAX has been documenting this uptick in panhandling since last year. Now, a Jacksonville City Council member has convened other city and state leaders to get a handle on this issue.

Mandarin resident Ramona Rood said she sees panhandlers regularly when she drives through her area of town.

“Lately, it’s like you’ll see someone standing right on that little intersection there, and a kid will come and knock on your window,” said Rood. “It’s just really scary. A child’s going to get hurt there.”

Rood showed up at a community meeting Monday afternoon held by Jacksonville City Councilman Al Ferraro to discuss panhandling-related issues and options with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the city’s general counsel. He said a big concern is children being used to panhandle.

“One of the things we’re trying to stop is making sure law-abiding citizens aren’t concerned they’re going to run over a child or somebody knocking at their window,” Ferraro said.

So Ferraro, who’s running for mayor, has convened the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Transportation and other agencies to do things like putting more “no trespassing” signs on state highways. He’s also imploring drivers to not give money to panhandlers.

“Give to somebody who can help these folks because, if they have a drug addiction, then you’re giving them money they’re going to go get drugs. If it’s an alcohol addiction, they’re going to get alcohol,” Ferraro said.

But some are concerned about this push. Jeff Gray is concerned about panhandlers’ rights. He said panhandlers could be targeted, as some courts have ruled panhandling is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

“I’ve been friends with homeless people that I help out in St. Augustine. They tell me about how horrible they’re treated. How when they’re arrested, unlawfully arrested on public property for a constitutionally protected right,” said Gray.

The Sheriff’s Office was also on hand in the meeting that took place at City Hall. It said it’s a difficult thing to enforce because someone can only be cited if they’re breaking a law like blocking traffic or acting aggressively toward drivers. JSO added that if you see a child helping panhandlers and they’re in the road, call police.

JSO issued a statement to News4JAX on the issue in 2021 saying:

There is a law banning panhandling in downtown Jacksonville. It deems panhandling to be a misdemeanor offense that can lead up to as much as a $500 fine -- and as many as 90 days in jail -- for repeated offenses.

Section 614.138 of the city’s Code of Ordinances states that is unlawful for anyone within Jacksonville’s “Central Core Enhancement Area” -- in other words, its downtown section -- to “solicit or beg on any sidewalk, highway, street, roadway, right-of-way, parking lot, park or picnic grounds or other public or semi-public area, or in any building lobby, entranceway, plaza or common area without the permission of the owner thereof.”

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.