JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The City Council on Tuesday night voted in favor of a bill that’s designed to crack down on panhandling.
The vote was 16-3. The “no” votes were from Joyce Morgan, Brenda Priestly Jackson and Reggie Gaffney Jr.
There is a 30-day grace period before the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office can start issuing citations. At first, violators would get a warning, but after multiple tickets, they could be arrested.
Supporters of this bill said panhandling is a public safety issue and argue that Jacksonville has become the sixth most dangerous city in the country for pedestrians.
They hope moving forward with this legislation will help change that.
There would be exceptions for charitable fundraising because groups could get a permit.
Councilman Reggie Gaffney Jr. asked previously why panhandling should be considered criminal.
“My biggest concern is the unnecessary risks, the mass incarceration, and possibly discrimination,” Gaffney said. “I’m also concerned about our officers. We’re already short JSO officers. I’m concerned about our JSO officers arresting homeless people instead of being in the communities.”
That is also a concern for a group that actually goes onto the streets to help many of those people, Changing Homelessness. The head of the organization, Dawn Gilman, said those asking for money have reasons, even though we may not agree with why they are doing it.
“People who panhandle need cash for something,” Gilman said. “We can acknowledge that they may have had a job loss, they may need to be able to pay their rent, and there may have been an unexpected expense. It is one immediate way that people can ask for cash without going through any governmental entity.”
Others like Cindy Funkhouser, who runs Sulzbacher, which offers emergency housing to people experiencing homelessness, said instead of giving to those on the road, think about donating elsewhere.
“I always tell people that if you really want to help someone that’s homeless, you give to the organizations that are in place to help those folks,” Funkhouser said. “So we have five very large homeless provider organizations right in downtown. And just as an example, Sulzbacher, we’re open 365 days a year, we serve lunch and dinner to anybody that’s hungry, and are never closed.”
Panhandling and vagrancy have been an issue in Jacksonville for decades.
In 1972, a local lawyer, Samuel Jacobson, won a landmark Supreme Court case that challenged Jacksonville’s vagrancy law.
“That legislation was an attempt to an overall economic regulation and determination,” Jacobson said. “It was saying how people were going to be when it came to getting jobs, when it came to having families.”
The high court ruled a person of ordinary intelligence would not know they had committed a crime, making it unconstitutional.
Jacobson said the city’s new panhandling ordinance is different because it regulates a specific activity.
“It appears to me that that this is much more narrowly focused than the kind of legislation that was a social regulation 500 years ago,” he said.