Behind the News

The End is Near … for panhandling in St. Pete

UPDATE (10:55 p.m.): After a marathon council session, the ordinance passes.

Tomorrow, the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to ban all street solicitations from city roads, including panhandlers, newspaper hawkers and charity volunteers carrying boots.

Frankly, I’m upset. Mostly because I had a really cool blog video I was going to do focusing on panhandlers and their really uninspired signs.

If you’re planning on going to the meeting at 6 p.m. and speaking, I’d suggest you read two things:

The first is an article I wrote about panhandling back in 2008 called “When Panhandler’s Attack.” Hopefully, you get my sarcasm.

The second is an e-mail I received from a friend, G.W. Rolle. He is formerly homeless and has an interesting perspective. He doesn’t like panhandling either, but instead of a simplistic solution, he decided to start a street newspaper. Like other street newspapers across North America, he wanted to convince the panhandling homeless to sell these papers instead of begging. This new ordinance could kill those plans.

Read his thoughts after the jump.

The criminalization of Homelessness has many effects which are far reaching.
 One of those effects is that it directly influences the income and
the sustainability of homeless individuals.
  Forty one percent of homeless people have jobs. These jobs however
do not supply enough income to carry one to a secure living situation.
That income is further jeopardized by the threat of constant arrest,
and by moving under threat from one location to another.
 When I was homeless,in St Petersburg, I sold the St Petersburg
Times every Sunday, for almost as long as I was homeless. I made
between 75 and one hundred dollars a week. While my income was not a
vehicle to obtaining waterfront property, it did feed me, buy me
sundry items and more importantly kept me from panhandling, or
stealing.I was able to do my laundry and have a drink or eat out when
I wished to.
 Many people see the Sunday sale of the St Petersburg Times as a way
to weather a bad situation.I wouldn't say that the selling of the St
Petersburg Times was solely my savior. I would say that the film Easy
Street and my ability to speak publicly lifted me out of
homelessness.I will say however that the selling of the St Petersburg
Times,kept me out of homelessness and that I was able to pay a weekly
rent due to my selling of it.Had I not had the St Pete Times on those
Sundays, it is easy to see myself slipping back into homelessness.
 Since I was lifted out of homelessness at the end  2007, I have
accomplished a few things. I was ordain as a minister in 2008, I had a
program, Living Water that housed forty homeless people in a
transitional setting until it was closed due to lack of support.I have
made my views on homelessness, and that housing is a basic human right known
nationally and internationally. I am the executive director of a non
profit organization.I received a national award for personal
achievement from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty,
and am currently a member of that organization's board of directors.
Locally, I am the coordinator of the Pinellas County coalition for the
 Homeless' Faces Of Homelessness Speaker's Bureau, which, as it's name
suggests attempts to put a face on homelessness.
 Most importantly, I am the publisher of The Homeless Image which as
it's slogan suggests attempts to give a voice to the voiceless.
The suggested retail price of this paper is one dollar. So far
homeless people can sell this paper and keep all of the proceeds.The
motivation behind this is that I want people to have the same
opportunity that the Times afforded me, only more of it.
 This proposed ordinance on a ban on all street solicitation would
not only devastate homeless incomes from sells of The St Pete Times
and papers such as mine, but it would further put on hold true
solutions to homelessness and would have the effect of perpetuating
homelessness in this area for many years to come.
 The pattern seems to consist of the following: A complaint is made
about the homeless by folks deemed worthy of listening to, and before
you know it, a law is being crafted to further legislate against the
people who can afford it least.The same as Baywalk. The same as the
property ordinances. The same repressive tactics.Harmony is not
sought. Creative solutions? Constructive engagement? Forget about it.
 My newspaper offers hope, constructive action, and income from fair
exchange as opposed begging. That's what it's all about. Give beggars
a product they can sell.
 I guess by blaming homeless people, the City Council thinks that
they legislate themselves out of their homeless problem. I urge all of
you to vote against this short sighted, mean spirited tactic. Please
email the St Petersburg City Council and ask them to entertain
constructive engagement as opposed to these current repressive
measures.Thank you for your time

2 thoughts on “The End is Near … for panhandling in St. Pete”

  1. Tom Tito says:

    You present many good points and reasons to vote no on this. I do support the street vendors by buying their papers and I choose not to give money to panhandlers because I don’t want to contribute to drug and alcohol abuse.

    The city has a proposal to educate the public on the need to stop giving cash but has not given this a chance to work.

    If anything, the presence of firefighters and Times sales people makes the public streets safer. They discourage crime. The city should be ashamed of its unsupported argument that we need to do this to protect the public.

    I could add that council has already “solved” the panhandling problem with recent restrictions but has chosen to not give us a progress report. Should we assume that these actions haven’t produced anything the city wants to brag about?

  2. Michael Hussey says:

    The City of Tampa is giving more leeway to panhandlers. Wear the shiny vest and you can peddle on the medium. St. Pete has been cracking down since the Rick “I don’t know who gave the order to rip those tents” Baker years. I don’t expect things to change.

    I haven’t seen any “I need crack” or “Help me buy meth” signs. I would like to see the reaction.

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