What can -- and can’t -- be done about panhandling in Bradenton?

On another 90-degree summer day in Florida, a man paced the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign as cars whizzed by.

David Moore said marital problems brought him to the corner of Sixth Avenue and U.S. 301. Unable to work at 56 years old, he said he first tried collecting money outside the Salvation Army, but he was not making enough so he moved on to the busier intersection just over a month ago.

When he first started there, someone else already standing at the corner “gave (him) three lights” to collect money and was going to chase him off. But Moore said they eventually became friends.

“It’s not just about the money, it’s about survival,” Moore said.

The recent actions of a local man retaliating against whom he called an aggressive panhandler caught national attention and the city of Bradenton may be looking at ways to keep panhandling at bay.

Councilman Gene Brown told fellow city councilmen Wednesday it “would be good of us to be prepared” to discuss panhandling issues at its July 24 meeting.

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For Brown, one of the biggest issues is it’s not the homeless who are asking for money.

Turning Points executive director Adell Erozer said the majority of people panhandling are not homeless. For many, panhandling is their job.

“Some homeless people can panhandle but most don’t,” Erozer said. “But they’re tempted to when they see these people making money.”

But is there a way to bring an end to panhandling?

While the intensity of the number of people panhandling comes and goes, Erozer believes there is a relatively simple solution.

Brown said they should tell motorists to stop giving money to panhandlers. Erozer echoed that message, adding that those giving to panhandlers are not helping, rather exacerbating the problem because as long as they’re making money, they’re going to stay.

“There’s a network of services available for people really in need, all they have to do is reach out,” Erozer said.

It’s what the man who offered the panhandler a job wrote on his sign,:“I offered him $15 an hour to do yard work for me and he refused. If we as a community stop paying them, they will leave our neighborhood!”

After the attention the story and related social media posts got, Turning Points reminded its Facebook followers of the “Spare Change Isn’t Real Change” campaign that encouraged people to give to organizations like Turning Points rather than to panhandlers directly.

The buzz around the story also prompted Brown to ask police and the city attorney to look into the city’s options for dealing with panhandlers going forward, but there may not be much there.

Manatee County and Bradenton were forced to revise their panhandling ordinances last summer after the Florida 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a ban on panhandling in the city of Miami was unconstitutional.

Florida State Statute says it’s unlawful for a person to willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of any public street, highway, or road by impeding traffic, by standing or approaching vehicles on the road or endangering the safe movement of vehicles.

It’s also illegal to willfully to obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of any public street, highway, or road by any of those means in order to solicit without a permit. Statute says violating this is a second-degree misdemeanor.

So, law enforcement can get involved when traffic is being obstructed or someone becomes aggressive. But those making the report must be willing to press charges.

Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan said during Wednesday’s meeting her department would look at ordinances that haven’t been challenged in court yet. Mostly, she said, it comes down to location and where people are panhandling.

Back at Sixth Avenue and U.S. 301, Moore is mindful of the law, and knows he can get a ticket if an officer sees him step into traffic.

“I know it’s about our safety, but they should allow us to step off the curb,” Moore said.

For him, the money he gets on the street keeps Moore from having to commit a crime like burglary.

“I’m not doing this just for drugs or nothing. I’m doing this to survive and eat,” Moore said.

Bradenton Police Capt. Brian Thiers said they try to use more outreach and assistance programs than enforcement in these scenarios.

“We get involved when they seek help from us,” Thiers said. “It’s people’s right.”

Resources such as the 2-1-1 of Manasota hotline connects those in need to services and includes organizations like Turning Points. Cards with the 2-1-1 hotline printed on them were at the center of a program rolled out in Manatee County in 2016 to help reduce panhandling.

In March, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said he was open to the idea of “fining the givers” to curb the panhandling, the Miami Herald reported.

The city also tried banning panhandlers from downtown Pensacola in 2017, but repealed the ban when they were sued by a civil rights organization for violating free speech and due process rights of the panhandlers, according to the Miami Herald.

“Cities shouldn’t use law enforcement as a tool to address homelessness and poverty, and courts across the country have made clear that they can’t ban certain kinds of speech, like panhandling, simply because they might make some people uncomfortable,” said ACLU of Florida staff attorney Jacqueline Azis after the city voted to repeal the ban.

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