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Panhandling ban must feature more than punishments

In conjunction with recent efforts around the Tampa Bay area to address panhandling and street soliciting concerns, Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to have the county attorney write an ordinance that would prohibit any solicitation on county roads.

However, as understood by some local leaders, simply throwing beggars and street solicitors into jail or issuing them heavy fines won’t make these individuals disappear from county roadsides.

That’s why if any type of ban is instituted, it’s critically important to support initiatives like the one proposed by County Commissioner Mark Sharpe. Sharpe’s plan calls for Hillsborough County to work with the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance and private business owners to establish a day labor program to address the underlying economic motivations that lead to begging and panhandling.

While some panhandlers may just be apathetic or lazy, it’s certain that there are many who take to begging and soliciting out of desperation and as a last resort.

If a ban is put in place without any programs to provide work, the jail time and fines would only encourage more of the same behavior by worsening offenders’ financial situations. This, in turn, makes a ban self-defeating.

Offering temporary day labor opportunities would not only put money in the pockets of those who desperately need it, but would also keep Hillsborough County roads safer by eliminating the potential traffic dangers posed by beggars and panhandlers off of busy roadways.

Even so, it’s debatable whether a ban is absolutely necessary to provide a safer environment around roads or if it’s just a maneuver to spare an awkward moment for motorists who feel uncomfortable sitting in their air-conditioned vehicle while someone holds a sign asking for money in the Florida heat.

Regardless of motivations, it seems a roadside ban is a possibility in the near future, as one is already established and being enforced in the city of St. Petersburg.

It’s unclear if Sharpe is merely providing lip service or if the county truly intends to take steps to provide more than just punishments for Hillsborough’s most unfortunate.

However, since county leaders have acknowledged the need for immediate economic assistance via temporary day labor and even promoted ideas to make this a reality, county leaders must be held accountable to bring this idea into fruition.

If temporary work can be offered to these individuals it would be an impressive way to, as the old saying goes, kill two birds with one stone.