County cracking down on panhandling

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Leon County has started putting up signs asking people not to give money to panhandlers on the street.

Eleven locations across the Tallahassee region will each have 22 signs out, according to a Leon County official.

County commissioners voted to enact the signage and seven other steps, including proposed ordinances and funding for existing initiatives, by a 6 to 1 vote.

The signs will abide to Ordinance No. 14-04 ordained by Leon County Commissioners. The signage was approved by the Leon County Commission in May, along with the City of Tallahassee and Big Bend Continuum of Care.

The money raised would go toward providing street outreach with services including food, accommodations, and bus fare.

Instead of giving money to individuals begging on the street, the signs advise the public to donate to organizations that provide services for the homeless, like the Big Bend Continuum of Care.

“As a homeless man, I am just looking for food to eat. This is the only way I know to get through the day and sometimes I am lucky to get a dollar or two,” Steve Johnson said.

The majority of panhandlers in Tallahassee, according to homeless care providers, are not genuinely homeless or in need of resources, but rather may be dealing with other challenges like substance misuse or mental health issues.

The county commissioners’ latest effort to address the issue of homelessness took place when it became increasingly obvious during and after the pandemic. Staff from the county are putting up the signs as they try to create a countywide code that will make it unlawful to place “a sign or display advertisement in the median of a road for any reason.”

The signs include a link encouraging people to donate to the Big Bend Continuum of Care, a non-profit that creates and puts into practice plans to combat homelessness in eight North Florida counties, as an alternative.

“It is important we are giving outreach to homeless people of Tallahassee, as a teen this is something I had to experience and want to help provide better connections,” said Taylor Biro, a board member of Big Bend Continuum of Care.

With the installation of signs urging residents to “not give” and look for other ways to help, Leon County’s most recent effort to discourage panhandling has the support of several business organizations.

With the new ordinances, panhandling and advertising is only be permitted on sidewalks. Even under this ordinance, the right to free expression on sidewalks is protected and cannot be restricted.

While several people expressed worries about the new signs, others hailed the ordinances as a positive move and a solution-focused activity.