Panhandlers on campus borders could be banned

Commuters may soon see an end to panhandlers standing on roadway medians along three of the four University borders.

The Tampa City Council voted 4-3 on Thursday in favor of a proposal to ban panhandling from Tampa’s major roadways, which include Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler and Fletcher avenues.

Panhandlers, or people who stand on street corners and intersections asking for money, have become a familiar sight outside of campus.

In October 2009, a Tampa city ordinance passed a law requiring that they wear reflective vests for their safety and increased visibility.

Vaine Angelo, a senior majoring in psychology, is the vice president of the student organization Helping Hands at USF. She said the proposal lacks a solution for those who depend on panhandling to survive.

“If they want to make a project to remove these people from certain areas, they need to come together with a social project where they can give support to them as well,” she said. “So it is very sad, because they are trying to get this (proposal passed) to take the homeless off the streets or out of some areas, but there is not a social project (in conjunction with the proposal) to help them.”

On Feb. 3, Angelo said she will send about 50 people to help the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County perform a census of how many panhandlers reside in the area.

“By next week, society is going to know how many people are out there, and that number could be frightening to some,” she said.

Council members Curtis Stokes, Gwen Miller, Mary Mulhern and Thomas Scott, who introduced the latest proposal, voted in favor of the ban. Opposed to it were Charlie Miranda, Yvonne Yolie Capin and Joseph Caetano.

Jeffrey Huggins, Caetano’s legislative aide, said the councilman has been pushing for a full ban on panhandling for the last six months. He said Caetano found the current propsal’s agenda, which only banned panhandling in Tampa’s major roadways, to be too weak to be effective.

“The partial ban doesn’t hit all the roadways,” Huggins said. “We don’t want to push a population somewhere else and have them go to the smaller roads and (solicit or street vend).”

The proposed ban does not cover the entirety of 50th Street because it is not considered to be a major roadway by the city transportation manager. However, the first 30 feet of the road, from its intersections with Fowler and Fletcher avenues, are included in the ban.

Huggins said the concern that prompted the ban is one of public safety because panhandlers can easily become involved in major accidents such as in May 2010, when a homeless panhandler was hit and killed by a truck.

While Caetano’s goal is to enact a full ban of panhandlers on all roads, Huggins said the councilman is not turning his back on those who suffer from poverty.

“Our organization is working with the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, (which is) challenged right now. They really don’t have extra beds (and) they are having challenges with their funding. We’re working with them to try to find them more funding,” Huggins said. “(If) people realize, ‘Maybe I’ll keep that change or those dollars (I give to a panhandler) and maybe give it to an organization that’s going to help the homeless,’ that could really fund the homeless much better.”

John Stanfield, who was laid off from Golden Corral in October 2010, said he makes about $40 per day panhandling for about six hours a day, six days a week. On Sundays, he sells newspapers for the St. Petersburg Times.

“It’s going to make it harder (to collect money),” he said. “We’re going to have to find businesses that will let us do it on their property.”

If the proposal does become a law, Stanfield said he will continue to panhandle in places where it’s not banned.

Another panhandler, who only went by Robert, said panhandlers must follow four city ordinances.

“You’ve got to be out only when it’s light out, wear (reflective) vests, get back to the median when the light turns green (for oncoming traffic), and you’ve got to be 18,” he said.

Robert said he had once been a military policeman in the Army and was a brick and stone mason after receiving his discharge. He said his financial troubles began in 2006, when he suffered a stroke and lost feeling on his left side. After the stroke, he began suffering from seizures that prevented him from maintaining employment.

“In 2009, I had 25 seizures. In 2010, I had 33 reported seizures. This year, I’ve already had a couple, I’ve been hospitalized many times for my seizures,” he said. “First time you seize on a job, you’re gone.”

Robert said the most money he has ever made panhandling was $98 on Christmas in 2009. He said he tries to make about $30 per day, sometimes panhandling from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to try and reach that amount.

“It’s do this or starve,” he said.

Councilman Charlie Miranda said he is not in favor of a partial ban and voted against the proposal because it will only push panhandlers into other neighborhoods.

“It doesn’t sound too good for the good people who really need help,” he said. “The same council members (who are for the ban), talk about creating jobs, but what happens to those people who are going to become jobless to some degree?”

The next step for the ban is a second reading and a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 3.

For the time being, the often-homeless panhandlers in need of food and shelter continue to colonize local medians while they are still legally able.