St. Augustine leaders propose plan to eliminate panhandling

By: Larry Spruill , Action News Jax

Updated:

Frustrated neighbors in St. Johns County showed up for a meeting to talk about panhandling and homelessness in the nation’s oldest city.

The mayor says they’re working hard to address the crisis, but one formerly homeless person says the city needs to address more than just the homeless.

"You got to change mindsets, that's the problem. You can't change anything by jailing somebody or saying get out of town, it just won't work,” said William Near.

St. Augustine is a place that attracts thousands of people every year, especially during the holiday season.

The ‘Nights of Lights’ display is something that will bright up your night, but behind the scenes is a dark problem.

“It’s a huge problem, that is affecting our residential quality of life, affecting our economy,” said St. Augustine City Manager John Regan.

City Manager John Regan says that problem is panhandling.

Wednesday, he introduced his plan to combat the issue, by drafting up an ordinance that will tackle this issue head on, but there are concerns of the city facing legal actions, if not careful.

“So therefore we must methodically build the findings of fact that support, new legislation for panhandling,” said Regan.

Lately, police have joined the fight, arresting five people for handling Tuesday night.

Near says he used to be homeless and arresting people is not the solution.

“I know this is not the way to do it. You got to change mindsets, that’s the problem. You can’t change anything by jailing somebody or saying get out of town, it just won’t work,” said Near.

Meanwhile, frustration builds up for the ‘Vagrant Watch Facebook Group.’

They have been documenting the issue downtown.

“It’s been a while and it’s been building and building with the citizens, and they finally hit the boiling point, and social media seemed the only way to get their attention,” said Charles Pappas. 

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