• Group pushes to end panhandling in downtown St. Augustine

    By: Brittney Donovan , Action News Jax


    A St. Augustine group is joining city leaders in an effort to crack down on panhandlers.

    Members of St. Augustine Vagrant Watch Group held signs on St. George Street Saturday reading, “Keep your money! Don’t support vagrants & panhandlers” and  “Many are using drugs & alcohol and vandalizing our beautiful city.”

    “They’re painting us as drug addicts and alcoholics, and not all of us are,” Jason Yarbrough told Action News Jax. 

    He and his girlfriend, Dana Brown, sat across from the group with their own sign, which read, “Homeless, anything helps. God bless.”

    “I want safety. I want people to come here and enjoy St. Augustine. It’s a beautiful place,” said Michael Lyman, a St. Augustine Vagrant Watch Group member.

    RELATED: St. Augustine leaders say panhandling is a ‘crisis' 

    The six or so group members sat outside Mi Casa Café, one of several restaurants that have the group’s flier posted in a store window.

    Mi Casa Café owner Marnie Brotherhood said sales are down at her restaurant, and she believes it’s because of the influx of pan handlers.

    Mayor Nancy Shaver told Action News Jax that the city began seeing an increase in panhandling after a judge ruled a Tampa law that banned panhandlers from begging for money was an infringement on the First Amendment.

    “I have just as many rights as they do,” Brown said. 

    St. Augustine officials approved a three-part plan to address the increase in panhandling.

    They are encouraging people to give money to charities instead of people who beg for it on the street.

    Shaver said the city is increasing police presence in downtown St. Augustine and enforcing existing ordinances for public intoxication and other offenses.

    Officials are asking the public for input about their experiences with panhandling as they work to rewrite the city ordinance.

    Several people told Action News Jax that they want to see a solution that works for both sides.

    “There’s got to be a solution to this,” said Jerry Thomas, a St. Augustine visitor. “These people are just wanting to survive.”

    Shaver told Action News Jax that officials expect a new ordinance to go into effect in March 2018.

    City officials are asking the public to visit the city website to document and report panhandling activities through photographs, reports of incidents or personal accounts of encounters.

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