89ºF

'Too early to tell if new panhandling laws are working,' Orlando police chief says

Panhandlers admit to breaking newly amended ordinance

ORLANDO, Fla. – Julio Gonzalez lives under a bridge at the intersection of Colonial Drive and I-4. With a black cup in his hand, the money he uses to buy food comes from panhandling, usually in the middle of the street. For two months now, this means he's been breaking the law every day.

Citing a Supreme Court decision clarifying the language of ordinances just like it all over the country, in July the City of Orlando amended its own law. Before, the rule limited panhandlers to staying inside 27 spray-painted blue boxes in downtown and allowed only between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

READ MORE: Orlando votes to give panhandlers more freedom

However, after the unanimous vote, the blue boxes were gone. But the newly amended ordinance came with new restrictions, too. Panhandlers can't be aggressive, which means approaching captive audiences -- such as people at ATMs or sitting at outside restaurants. It also banned panhandling in the street.

Gonzalez said he doesn't make nearly as much money panhandling on sidewalks downtown as he does at his intersection.

“I've been downtown everywhere; this is the only place I can go to eat, you know?" he said.

Steven Rives, who owns the Art of Fades Barber Shop on Colonial Drive, doesn't think the new rules have done much.

"The situation is it's not very good," Rives said. "Due to the fact that we are business owners and they are always here crossing a very busy street. I would say it's one of the busiest streets in Orlando.”

READ MORE: Panhandling rules in downtown Orlando could soon change

So, is the new ordinance working?

Orlando Police Chief John Mina says it's too early to tell.

"I know there are still people out there that are violating the law," Mina said. "We know it's happening and certain areas are worse than others so we are trying to target those certain behaviors to correct the behavior.”

Mina adds the first violation is a warning and the second is an arrest. He’s hopeful that this ordinance can make things safer for everyone.

"There's not (a) whole lot we can do," he said. "That's a bigger issue in our society. We know people have been soliciting for money since the beginning of time, so that's going to continue. We just hope this ordinance will stop those aggressive panhandlers and people being unsafe in the roadways.”

Arrests have not stopped Gonzales.

“I know it's illegal. I have been in jail a couple of times because of it," Gonzales said. "Remember, I told you I got to eat.”

Mina adds OPD has received complaints and that usually works. If you see someone in the roadway, he says feel free to call, and an officer will respond.


About the Author: