City leaders discuss solutions to panhandling problem in St. Augustine's historic district

By: Michael Yoshida , Action News Jax

Updated:

St. Augustine city leaders gathered Monday night to discuss a panhandling problem in the Ancient City.

People living in the area say it’s a big problem downtown. City leaders are calling the issue a crisis.

Leaders say it is at its worst at the plaza in historic downtown and on St. George Street. 

On Monday night, people voiced their concerns and the city discussed potential solutions.

“It has an impact on our economy, on the tourism industry that we’re trying to attract,” resident Silke Royer said.

But because federal rulings recently struck down panhandling laws across the U.S., St. Augustine's ordinance against panhandling hasn’t been enforced.

“Which happened last August, we just had a real increase and influx of panhandling in our city,” St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver said.

Shaver said until the city's panhandling laws can be rewritten, the issue must be addressed in different ways, one being a campaign to have people donate to organizations for the homeless rather than giving to panhandlers.

“If you dry up the money, then it’s not such an attractive place to come,” Shaver said.

“I don’t see it being a pandemic problem," Alex said.

Alex has lived in St. Augustine for around nine years. He’s homeless and agrees some go too far.

“And we’re all ashamed by them. Like, what are you doing?” Alex said.

It's an issue that others, including Royer, say is complicated, but needs to be addressed. 

“I do feel not all the people that are down there are homeless. I feel a lot of them are professional panhandlers,” Royer said.

City leaders also talked about providing more resources for the homeless, including increasing to the number of beds at local shelters. Adding more officers in the downtown area to crack down on panhandling, and how to write an ordinance that addresses the issue and is constitutional, were also discussed.

Click here to view the presentation from St. Augustine's city manager.

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