Panhandling policy workshop at Tampa Chamber fails to draw support for ban

07/27/11 Janelle Irwin
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This morning the Tampa Chamber of Commerce tackled the controversial issue of a possible ban on Panhandling in Tampa. Only two in attendance supported a full or partial ban. Everyone else expressed with a show of hands, their desire to give the matter further consideration.

It took effect in St. Petersburg last June. Parts of unincorporated Hillsborough County adopted it early this year. So far though, the city of Tampa has managed to thwart a ban on street solicitation. That could change on August 4th when City Council is set to vote on the issue. Linda Karson is a life-long advocate for the homeless. She was asked to speak on behalf of dismissing a ban that would keep some of the City’s most in need from turning to what may be their last resort.

Karson wasn’t alone. In an unofficial vote, only two participants expressed a desire to ban panhandling in any capacity. Peggy Land of the Homeless Coalition hopes city officials will give the matter a little more time before moving forward.

Real Estate professional and city council meeting frequenter, Spencer Kass was the only person in favor of an immediate and all-inclusive ban. Kass has sympathy for the underlying socio-economic problems though. He suggested that an affordable housing fund containing $6-7 million be reallocated for charities aimed at helping those in need. He said given enough community involvement, city leaders can find more creative solutions than continuing to allow panhandling.

Linda Aiken volunteers with local homeless charities, but she also supported a panhandling ban, though she insisted the ban allow for Sunday solicitation. That exception would allow local newspapers to continue employing street vendors to conduct business on street corners. She said she doesn’t think the ban is about safety so much as people just don’t want to actually see the poverty they already know is there. A partial ban would keep newspapers from laying off hundreds of street vendors and the homeless population, she says, would find a way to cope.

Kass questioned the constitutionality of banning something on some days but not others. He said complete panhandling bans have already been challenged and subsequently upheld. His unofficial recommendation to the city was to stick with what works. Kass proposed some solutions to help less fortunate panhandlers, but he said newspaper sellers had other options.

This issue will be formally addressed at the August 4 City Council meeting at 9 a.m. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

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