JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The difficult economic times are driving up panhandling numbers on Jacksonville streets according to experts. Even city council members are noticing.
Council Member Al Ferraro hosted a meeting Monday to address the concerns on Jacksonville intersections. According to an Action News Jax investigation, there’s been about a 7% jump in calls for service related to panhandling so far this year compared to the same time period in 2021.
Sabrina Wheeler lives on San Pablo Road and attended Monday’s meeting at City Hall.
“I see panhandlers every day. Every day. And it’s just distressing,” she said. “Someone’s going to get hit.”
Action News Jax’s Robert Grant dug through the Jacksonville’s Sheriff’s Office’s calls for service. The top five intersections for panhandling in Jacksonville include:
- Beach Blvd./University Blvd.
- Beach Blvd./Hodges Blvd.
- Atlantic Blvd./I-295 & Blanding Boulevard/I-295 (tie)
- Beach Blvd./St. Johns Bluff & 2309 Edgewood Ave. (tie)
- Beach Blvd./I-295
“You’re going to have an innocent, law abiding citizen now who’s killed somebody or gotten into an accident. So we have to address these problems,” Ferraro said.
He’s noticed an increase in families looking for money on the side of the road.
“As government, our first job is to protect our citizens. To have kids roaming around intersections and roadways — that’s not keeping people safe.”
According to Jacksonville’s city ordinance, it is illegal to solicit money on the side of the road without a permit. However, JSO said its hands are tied after a judge ruled in favor of a St. Johns County panhandler in 2020.
The court ruled the state’s law on panhandling unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment rights.
Ferraro is now drafting legislation with Council Member Kevin Carrico and city attorneys that would go around that court ruling. He said the state is also working on putting up “no trespassing” signs at overpasses that would give officers more legal backing for enforcement.
Action News Jax’s Law & Safety Expert Dale Carson, a criminal defense lawyer, said panhandlers could also get a citation for obstructing traffic when they step into the street to get money.
Ferraro said its best not to give out cash on the side of the road. He said to instead direct individuals to the resources available and donate to Jacksonville non-profits dedicated to helping.
- Sulzbacher: Sulzbacher Center (sulzbacherjax.org)
- Trinity Rescue Mission: Trinity Rescue Mission Homeless Shelter Jacksonville, FL
- City Rescue Mission: Home (crmjax.org)
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