August 5, 2008

Panhandlers Moved West, St. Pete Councilman Suspects

By Steven Girardi, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Aug. 5--ST. PETERSBURG A year after the city banned panhandlers from downtown, City Councilman Herb Polson is wondering if they haven't moved west to the Tyrone Mall area.

"On any given day, within an hour at 22nd Avenue and 66th Street, or at Tyrone Boulevard and 66th, there will be four people standing in median with their signs," Polson said Tuesday. "And that occurs with regularity."

Residents are complaining and Polson said the city's "no panhandling zone," enacted in downtown last August, might be part of the reason. He will ask city staff during the council meeting Thursday morning to come up with a status report on how well the downtown ban is working to see whether there is a correlation.

He said the number of street beggars in the Tyrone area, a major commercial and retail district, seems to be greater than usual, especially for summer months. He wonders if other council members are noticing the same thing in their areas.

"That's the thing I'd like to find out -- if it's movement from people downtown, or if it's our economic situation," Polson said. "But if we're seeing a considerable amount of panhandling going on now, I think we have to at least look at how we can address it."

Gary Bush, the city's code compliance operations manager, said code officers have noticed fewer homeless people and panhandlers in the downtown area. But he said the department doesn't formally track them and does not know where they might go.

Code officers on occasion visit homeless sites to clear out personal items that accumulate. The city passed an ordinance in January to prohibit people from keeping personal belongings outdoors in an attempt to eliminate the homeless camps that pop up.

Officers most recently removed a truckload of belongings from homeless people living under Interstate 375 on Thursday. The people were asked to put whatever items they couldn't carry away into garbage bags, which city officials photographed, tagged and put into storage for them.

Reporter Steven Girardi may be reached at (727) 452-2333 or at [email protected]


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