Economic times drive up panhandling in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Experts said the economic hardships being felt nationwide are driving up the numbers of panhandlers city-wide, but it does not directly relate to homelessness.

Changing homelessness conducts a count of the homeless population every year. In 2021, there were 1,222 total homeless individuals, in comparison to 3,025 a decade ago.

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CEO Dawn Gilman said the COVID-19 pandemic impacted those numbers, but overall they are trending downward.

“Not all homeless people panhandle and not all panhandlers are homeless, but there is an overlap,” she said. “A lot of time people panhandling have a place to go at night and they’re panhandling so they can stay there.”

Action News Jax requested the total calls for service relating to panhandling city-wide from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

So far this year, the number of calls has increased about 7% compared to this time last year.

In 2021, there were 2,585 total calls.

Action News Jax’s Robert Grant visited the intersection of Hodges and Beach Boulevard on the southside. There were 15 total calls for service related to panhandling at that intersection since the start of the year.

He observed at least four panhandlers in each of the four corners, many going door to door to get money.

One man said he is out there because of, “no money and no passport.”

The sign he held said “I have three children -- don’t have more for rent, food.”

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Gilman explained some panhandlers are homeless and looking for extra income.

“But there’s always a group of people panhandling for whatever reason. For some of them that is there income,” she said.

Action News Jax’s Law & Safety Expert Dale Carson was an officer in Miami for several years and now works in Jacksonville as a defense attorney.

He said the City of Jacksonville has an ordinance against soliciting money on the side of the road unless you have a permit.

“It also is dangerous not only to themselves but to other drivers and individuals operating on our highways.”

That is why Carson said panhandlers can get a traffic citation for obstructing traffic when they go out into the road to get money.