Panhandlers exist despite Sarasota ordinance - WFLA News Channel 8

Panhandlers exist despite Sarasota ordinance

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A year ago, the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County passed ordinances prohibiting panhandling. But, there's a reason why panhandlers still popping up. A year ago, the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County passed ordinances prohibiting panhandling. But, there's a reason why panhandlers still popping up.
SARASOTA, FL (WFLA) -

A year ago, the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County passed ordinances prohibiting panhandling. So, why are panhandlers still popping up on street corners in the city and the county?

We saw a woman begging while standing across the street from a gas station. We also spotted a wheelchair-bound woman on Beneva Road. They carried signs, asking for help.

WFLA News Channel 8 discovered that in many circumstances, panhandlers are legally allowed to be at these locations.

Up until very recently, panhandling was a serious problem for the city and county.

"It was in a constant basis all day long we'd get calls of people standing in the street panhandling, " said Sgt. Lori Jaress with the Sarasota Police Department.

Then a year ago, the city and county passed ordinances, and the panhandlers virtually disappeared. But recently, some have begun reappearing throughout the area.

"It's not illegal to stand in the median, however it is illegal to walk into the street and have an interaction with the driver, said Jaress.

Technically, the ordinances do not necessarily ban the act of panhandling. Officials say the laws were created as safety precautions. According to the laws, when a panhandler interacts with a driver it can obstruct traffic and put people in danger.

"We don't actually have to see a hand to hand, like in a drug deal for instance. We just have to see an interaction. And, that's enough for us to cite the panhandler for panhandling," said Jaress.

Sarasota Police say over the past year, the word has spread among the transient community about the laws. But, officials say some have not heard about the laws, or some just panhandle anyway.

"A lot of these people are desperate and that's the only means that they have to make money,” said Sgt. Jaress.

Officers stress there are programs to help panhandlers. They warn that giving out cash doesn't help the situation. Jaress has a recommendation, "Ignore them,” he said.

“Please don't give them any money. All it is doing is enabling them and helping them continue their behavior."

Sarasota County deputies also make sure to keep an eye out for panhandlers while out on patrol. Whenever people are caught breaking these laws in either the city or the county, they could be arrested or given a summons for court.

If you ever see panhandlers obstructing the roads, call law enforcement.

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