Palm Coast City Council member Heidi Shipley thinks Palm Coast has a panhandling problem, particularly around Palm Coast Parkway and Old Kings Road, where she says “regulars” panhandle. Shipley wants the city to do something about it.
“I know we have a lot of panhandlers here in Palm Coast lately,” Shipley told the city council this morning, “a lot of them down by the Bank of America and Wendy’s and CVS. I know that legally we can’t do anything with that, but can we make an ordinance that they can’t panhandle in front of these businesses, along out main streets at the bottom of every light?”
The simple answer is a qualified no: cities that pass anti-panhandling ordinances are asking for legal trouble because courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 and 2015, have repeatedly declared panhandling protected speech. Many cities have tried to get around the precedents. Rare is the one that’s succeeded.
Shipley was inspired by something she’d been listening to on the radio—word of St. Augustine “passing an ordinance on the panhandling in front of businesses,” she said.
On Monday, the St. Augustine City Council unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting panhandling within 20 feet of any “commercially zoned property,” whether it’s l property, within 20 feet of any bus stop, ATM, public rest room, parking lot, parking meter or pay station (operated by the city), and within 100 feet of any day care or school. The council’s presentation, by Melbourne attorney Michael Kahn, portrayed panhandling in the city as “extremely disturbing,” “disruptive” and contributing to “fear, intimidation and disorder,” resulting in “the loss of access and enjoyment of public places throughout the city”—a claim directly contradicted by the St. Johns visitors’ bureau, which two months ago boasted of a 5 percent increase in tourism despite the chaos of Hurricane Irma.
Kahn, however, crafted his presentation around a crisis-mode approach, filling the council members’ documentations with reams of color pictures of homeless and panhandling scenes from around town, images of discarded bottles of vodka or spots that have been urinated on (though with nothing to differentiate the acts between panhandlers or drunk college students and bureaucrats) and a series of arrest reports about homeless people urinating or committing other infractions. The St. Augustine ordinance is very broadly worded and an almost certain invitation for litigation, with such provisions as the 20-foot distance from any commercial property and the 100-foot distance from schools or day cares easy pickings for lawyers, if only on due process grounds and before getting to speech matters (the 100-foot limit presumes panhandlers, whether they have a record or not, to be dangerous, a presumption as untenable as if St. Augustine were to apply the same restriction based on color or ethnic origin.)
The ordinance is on surer ground when focused on “aggressive panhandling and begging,” which may legally be banned once subjectivity issues are set aside: the aggression must be documented. There are certain other means of regulating panhandling.
“I can tell you that you don’t need an ordinance to not allow them in right of ways in the streets here in Palm Coast,” City Manager Jim Landon said. “That is a matter of chasing them from one place to the next.” But the panhandler in those cases must be in the actual street, in the way of traffic.
“When we know they’re there, deputies are to move them along,” Landon said. “When a deputy comes up they’ll tell you they’re on the parking lot, they have permission from that business. If the business gives them permission, whether it’s girl scouts selling girl scout cookies or something else, and then when the business tells them to get lost they tell them oh, I’m on a public street, you can’t tell me to get lost, those are the ones that, they’re the smart ones as far as requiring them to move on. They are not allowed to panhandle in our streets. What happened in St. Augustine is a different environment because you go in the old area where they’re walking and it’s in a sidewalk, it’s just a different environment, because if they’re on a sidewalk, in that shopping area, then it’s harder, you have to have different ordinances. This is a matter of just continuing to attempt to make sure they’re not panhandling in our streets.”
But merely being in front of a business is not illegal. Landon told Shipley to call Mark Carman, the sheriff’s Palm Coast chief, who would then address the issue.
“We have regulars that are at each block and that median across from Wendy’s.”
“We have regulars though, we have regulars that are at each block and that median across from Wendy’s, the same guy that sits there for six months now, just sits there with his little sign, across from Wendy’s,”
But while deputies can—and occasionally do—tell panhandlers to move along, they often rely on the fact that they have a shield, and are law enforcement officers, rather than on a legally defensible authority to move the panhandler along—unless the panhandler has demonstrably been aggressive, demanding or intimidating to passers-by. All such behavior is prohibited, as is panhandling in the street or from a median.
“We’re not going to arrest them, we’re not going to put handcuffs out there and put them in jail because they’re out there,” Landon said, calling it more extreme than necessary, “but we can work on it if they are being persistent in certain areas.”
In fact, arrests for panhandling are almost unheard of locally not because Landon considers it an extreme measure, but because the arrests would not hold up in court.
Bill Reischmann, the city council’s attorney, briefly reminded the council of legal precedent along those lines. “You can regulate time, place and manner, you cannot regulate content of speech,” Reischmann said, “so the city of Palm Coast right now has a very effective method, we are fortunate, in that we don’t have similar problems of cities like some of the tourist areas have.” It’s not clear what “effective methods” the city has in place, other than a perceived luck of circumstances, though homelessness in the city and the county has become serious enough to warrant three ongoing, weekly meal programs for the homeless—two at the Methodist churches in Bunnell and Palm Coast, one at Santa Maria del Mar in Flagler Beach. Palm Coast devotes no money or resources to mitigation of homelessness or poverty of the sort.
Like a panhandler steered away from a median, Shipley this morning was eased away from suggesting an ordinance to address what she perceives as a problem: Palm Coast is not likely to seek out what would be an almost automatic and expensive legal challenge.
The Pensacola City Council last May passed an ordinance (in a close, 4-3 vote) prohibiting panhandling in much of the city’s business district. The ACLU promptly sued in federal court on free speech and due process grounds.
“We repeatedly warned the city council that this ordinance was unconstitutional,” Jacqueline Azis, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida, said at the time. “The city council can’t outlaw certain kinds of speech just because hearing it could make some people uncomfortable. Courts throughout the country, including in Florida, have been abundantly clear about the unconstitutionality of these laws. We had worked to avoid litigation, but when this cruel and unjust law was passed, we had to take action before it went into effect to protect the rights of the city’s most vulnerable citizens, street performers, and charitable groups.”
Less than a month later, the Pensacola City Council voted to repeal the ordinance, and the ACLU dismissed the lawsuit in September.
Between the first and second vote of the Pensacola council repealing the ordinance, the 11th Circuit Court of Florida in Miami-Dade County declared Miami’s ban on panhandling unconstitutional, and with it the arrest of panhandlers. (The case stemmed from the arrest of a homeless person in Downtown Miami.)
Both approaches were based on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent in 2015 that—though it was based on political signs–found that “Government regulation of speech is content based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.”
Despite any kind of enforcement, Landon cautioned, moving a panhandler from one median means the panhandler will simply find another.
The St. Augustine ordinance is not yet law: it gets its second reading in late March.
Download the St. Augustine Panhandling Ordinance (2018)
Ask the residents in parts of Los Angeles, & they would all say that it would have been better to do something years earlier before it had gotten so out of hand .
Dan Potter says
Rome of 2000 years ago had beggars that were a nuisance but not a serious threat to anyone. Palm Coast have beggars that are not a threat to anyone. Begging is not a crime. To belief that the worth of a socialite is worth more than that of a beggar is ludicrous. Let them beg.
Florida is so insane. All fired up laying down laws to keep those scary panhandlers away, but kids murdering kids with assault rifles… sorry, too bad just nothing we can do.
Way out of control. I wont let my kids go down the street because of camps behind the library, by the CVS on palm coast parkway. It is bad enough to seen the same people on the sides of Belle Terre and Palm Coast Parkway, then see them across the street buying a beer and cigarettes after they take money from people. It is horrible and needs to be stopped. If it is not illegal site them for littering! Their messes are every where. Do you really want our guests on vacation to see such a display?!?
Don’t give them money. They will go away.
Qkuit giving them money and they will disappear. Simple math!
Mrs. Shipley is revealing herself as an empathy free person. I’m sorry I ever supported her.
Concerned Citizen says
Palm Coast definitely has a pan handling problem. Some of These people who are often not homeless get dropped off by someone in the morning at an opportune location then get picked up later on by someone and move on. I know I am on the road a lot during the day for work and have seen it happen.
Not a day goes by that you aren’t approached at the exit ramp of 95 or over at Belle Terre and Palm Coast Parkway. And I wonder how much some of them pull in after being in various locations.
They say panhandling isn’t enforceable but what about loitering and trespassing and littering? These people leave a mess most places they hang out. And if a business forbids loitering isn’t that enforceable?
It seems to me if we have a panhandling problem it’s because our city leaders are to scared to do anything about it.
USA Lover says
Shut up Landon. You’re a lame duck.
Now if they can just pass an ordinance to stop all the trash that is accumulating on the side of south Belle Terre Pkwy on a daily basis we’d all be happy.
How about getting rid of the Jehovah witnesses that sit in front of the libraries? They can make you feel a little intimidated about going into the library. I thought we weren’t supposed to mix church and state?
Rick Kang says
Panhandling is a traffic safety issue! Write a law that stops panhandling near traffic lights!
Palm Coast is mostly bums anyway; some just more visible than others.
Yes we do. It’s getting worse. I understand some people really need help but the majority of them can work. Most live in houses, but panhandle to make there money. We need to stop this, and actually help the people in need.
I refuse to give ANY panhandlers money. If people would STOP giving these panhandlers money they would disappear quickly. Yes they will find another city or state to go to so let them go to California where people love to hand out everything free to everyone. Besides 99% of them will only use the money to buy alcohol or drugs anyway. Many years ago while visiting Greenwich Village in NYC I tried to give a panhandler a good size portion of my leftover meal and they refused. They wanted money so what does that tell you! If they are hungry then go buy them a meal-to-go at one of the fast food places in town. I find the ones standing there with their small children, women in particular, are the ones pulling on many people’s heartstrings. Of course people are going to throw money at them, that’s why they are there and doing it that way. By the way, Jim Landon needs to find another job. His political career is a JOKE!
Palm Coast wants to act like a city? Well, with it comes city problems. Homelessness. Panhandling. A lack of jobs for a subsection of workers. A lack of affordable housing. Palm Coast has more than just a panhandling problem, its problems are the same of many small towns aiming for big city dreams. We are a few of the lucky ones. We have good paying jobs and can afford our house and our bills. Many people I know struggle paycheck to paycheck and it’s not because they cannot manage their money – they don’t make enough of it at their jobs to pay for their mortgage or rent and all their bills. Living in Palm Coast isn’t cheap (cheaper than St Augustine but there are more opportunities for jobs there and you are closer to Jacksonville).
Palm Coast is not designed for the type of rapid growth that happened. The town is structured as more of a giant HOA than a big town or a small city. I’ve lived in four states now, some small rural areas, some of the largest cities in the country, and many things in between. Palm Coast is the only place that has yet to understand what it is and forge an identity. Most of my friends work in Daytona, St Augustine, or Jacksonville. Why? Why do they have to travel out of town for a decent paying job?
Here again, Palm Coast worries about a problem that is caused by its own neglect. Yes, the homeless/panhandlers bear responsibility but everyone in the lower- and middle-class is a few lost paychecks away from the same fate. I never judge those that struggle or look down upon them because luck may stop tilting in my favor. However, something needs to be done, and something more than a career center help session on using a computer. In a general consensus of nationwide homeless, many of them suffer from mental health issues and cannot afford medication or treatment. Some have learning issues. Others have no way of presenting themselves appropriately for a job interview. A lot are Vietnam War veterans of whom the government won’t even help with their PTSD and other health issues from the chemicals used during the war. Putting in an ordinance against panhandling will not solve the issue. I think Palm Coast, the council-members, and the residents would rather ignore why there are panhandlers/homeless than actually solve the issues that put Palm Coast in this situation. St Augustine is hardly a model for how things should be done.
Nanci Whitley says
This is disgusting! Who are they hurting? They are never aggressive or scary. For heavens sake have some empathy. I keep bags with tuna, crackers and fruit juice in my car. Everyone I’ve encountered has been appreciative and polite. There’s no help out there for them. WE are the help. BTW, a number of them are veterans…..shame on us.
“ …I tried to give a panhandler a good size portion of my leftover meal and they refused. They wanted money so what does that tell you!”
Well, Richard….someone didn’t want food that you’d already eaten off of. I’ve purchased many meals for panhandlers and NEVER had anyone turn it down. Just because they’re broke doesn’t mean that they have to be eternally grateful for your table scraps. Maybe you could try that next time?
Hey, Anonymous, did you actually see homeless people buying beer and cigarettes? How about wine and lobster … see any of that, too? You know those lazy shiftless homeless – take your hard-earned money and squander it. Need to round them up and, what? Pack them off to work camps? Maybe air drop them into Mexico?
Rob Jr says
Here in Palm Coast I have never encountered a needy person who is aggressive. Some don’t even ask for anything and some have refused a couple of dollars.
Instead of trying to make political hay off of the defenseless try giving; a couple of dollars, cup of coffee, a sandwich, a pair of new socks.
Try sleeping in the woods for a night and wonder how you will get a shower, then think about some clean undies, socks etc. Then get up in the morning and go to work. Yes there are homeless people who do have jobs. Do all this while carrying all your worldly possessions on your back.
Jumping on the homeless rather than attempting to find a solution to this social problem has all of the earmarks of a shallow person. Trying to enact laws to legislate a social problem out of existence is folly.
People who jump on the defenseless are like people who: smack a baby, abuse women, make fun of the handicapped or denigrate people who have served their country and returned as war heroes.
Shallow, superficial, one-dimensional.
I did not agree with a lot of what Jons Netts advocated as mayor of this city. However, to the best of my recollection I never read or heard of him using the homeless as a political tool. So guess where my vote goes.
1. These are not people who don’t have opportunity to work.
2. Most have mental disabilities or substance abuse problems.
3. They don’t bother me, I’ve never experienced an aggressive one.
4. They could pick up their trash. Maybe the city should provide a dumpster on the rear of the Library’s lot.
5. I don’t think Hedi Shipley is a bad person for trying to addressing the problem.
I see them scratching lottery tickets. They must be financially secure.
@Time and fortune come to all.
Your turn will come too.
“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”
― Anatole France
Prime example: I exited the east entrance of Walmart and noticed a panhandler on the corner. She had a small cardboard sign that read” need help”. As I turned on to Cypress Point I decided to return and offer her a few dollars as it was near the holidays. I made the illegal left hand turn back into the Walmart lot. As I turned to the left I noticed the woman walking away from the corner. I pulled into a parking stall and was going to walk over to her. At that point she folded up her sign and got into a late model Ford Explorer. On the rear window was a pink sign that said “soccer mom” at that point she backed up and drove out. As I exited the same location she was standing I noticed a pile of trash that looked like a bag from Sonny’s a large drink and a few empty water bottles also on the ground was another cardboard sign that I could not read.
ANSWER: STOP GIVING THEM MONEY!!!!! Some might need i think most don’t.
Stop giving $
My advice to panhandlers, get a job. Fast food establishments are always hiring.
Some have RVs. They park them in Walmart parking lot. They wake up, go stand somewhere pretending to be homeless. Suckers give them money all day long, plenty enough to eat, drink, smoke for the day and obviously enough for gas money and to keep their RV running and registered. Pretty smart actually. They use public restrooms, bathe at the beach and sleep very comfortably in their RV at night…wake up and do it again. I used to give to them until I figured out their scam. I have nothing against them, but I’m no longer funding their lifestyle.
I’m more worried about the homeless & drug users located in the camp ground/ trailer park off of A1A close to Armand Dr than I am about some panhandlers.
If I will win the lottery I will buy some nearby track of land and build a campsite with all facilities, bathrooms, showers a meeting hall with dedicated sites for tents, sites for cars and a a free transport vehicle maybe mini bus that will run them to the shops and the town back and forth. The camping site will also have substance rehab counseling and medical, dental attention some days a week and also retraining and job interviewers. Just a dream…because after all they are our fellow Americans too.
And like Gkimp says. Heidi Shipley is not a bad person to the contrary… maybe she got also an ear full of some residents complaints about the panhandling in Palm Coast. Unfortunately like with all, some of them panhandlers have serious substance addictions and make it look, no so good for the rest. But care for homeless is a service that should also be included in the taxes we already pay.
Had one ask for four dollars one day and like a dumbazs i gave it to him….he went in and bought two lottery tickets ahead of me. Offered another a job and he said no he would make more money ztanding on the corner.
For those people who are asking “why do they keep hanging around?” Because people like you keep giving them money. STOP! They WILL go away once their enablers stop enabling them.
Heidi Shipley says
Well, anyone who knows me knows I feel for people who are out there looking for money to survive and feed their families. I get complaints about various homeless people who are sitting on a park bench or hanging at the Library and I say live and let live but within the last few months I’ve seen four middle aged grown men near that corner. They’ve walked from place to place and change into different clothing to sit and panhandle. I’m not worried that there are places looking for workers that they don’t apply to, that’s their business. But when I see people in our medians approaching cars or at our intersections making people jam on their breaks to hold out a dollar then it’s my concern. I’m not without empathy I’m just trying to handle the complaints I receive which is my job. I’m sorry if I came across as harsh. If you know me, that’s not me.
I agree never any of us that were not born wealthy got to deal with the possibility of being homeless by the runaway miracle of one missing pay check. Not all of us have the gift of being so cleaver and able to avoid that! Also not all of us have been exposed to the tragedy of having to be in the battle field killing for survival and come back home to the unknown. Not only our heroe soldiers endured the mental side effects but also the children born to those soldiers I believe are affected as well and probably not all but enough to be part of those homeless and panhandlers. Lets do not forget that all living things (plant, animal and human beings) adapt to the environment they are exposed as with time in the same conditions, their genes are modified to survive. One of us loose our home need to adapt to homelessness (live in a tent in the woods or in a car?), if we suffer enough some look for relief in substance abuse and if become financially destitute (fired from job due to corporate greed or other reason) resource is panhandling. Whatever to survive…survival is not based on pride for many humans. Pride is for those that can afford it only..nowadays.
I feel more sorry for the dogs most panhandlers around here have with them outside in the heat! I saw a dog panting so bad, I gave them a bottle of water to give to the dog! How can they afford to feed these dogs?!
I used to manage a convenience store on the beach and had to deal with panhandlers on a daily basis. The vast majority of them would buy alcohol with whatever money they had. Most of them would buy a tallboy at a time whenever they were given a few dollars, but some of them were more frugal and saved every dollar until they could afford a 24-pack. There was one, maybe two, who did not spend the money on alcohol or narcotics.
They generally were not violent, but I still had to call the cops at least once a week because someone would get belligerent and refuse to leave. Spending most of my 20’s working there motivated me to go back to college and get a bachelor’s degree.
I left a city to raise my children in an area that didn’t have to deal with this crap! I’m so sick of seeing them on EVERY corner…. I leave my house… down Old Kings… there they are… I make a right, go over the bridge, get stuck at the light… There they are…. go to Belle Terre and Palm Coast Pkwy… THERE they are.. Library parking lot.. THERE they are!!! I can’t even take my kids to the library!!!! UGH!!!! This city council sucks
back in the 90’s in NYC at Penn Station there was a guy who begged for money under the guise that he had just been robbed. He was dressed in a torn suit and had some”blood” on his sleeve and a “bruise” on his face, and sometimes was missing a shoe, he would change his location daily… “could you help me out with some cash, I just got mugged and I need to buy a train ticket to get home”…… turns out he was making MORE THAN $100,000.00 a year!
Well Anna, food that I have eaten from is certainly a lot more sanitary than most food that some homeless and panhandlers have had to eat from such as the garbage bins at the rear of restaurants, etc. Having spent 16 years in the LA area I have seen it all when it comes to homeless and panhandlers. NYC is just as bad as is most larger metropolis areas especially in the lower southern states where the weather is warmer.
The health Dept. in Orange County just removed several miles of homeless in CA, along with 1,100 pounds of human waste. You don’t want to look the other way on this problem. Unless of course the ACLU are volunteering to bring shovels and volunteers for cleanup.
Taxpayers have right, too.
Born and Raised Here says
I usually give them a bottled water, and a bag of chips, or peanut butter crackers.
Roger That says
Those of you who are giving money to them should offer to take them into your homes instead. That’s real helpful and kind, not tossing change or a few dollars.
If you ever go on the sheriff’s inmate webpage, you will see some of these panhandlers being arrested on drug charges like meth. Forget the cigarettes and alcohol, im talking about junkies so of you are defending, talking about jobs and what not!!
ONE WAS JUST ARRESTED 2 DAYS AGO FOR DRUG PARAPHERNALIA!!!!!
Publix has more solicitors at their front door than there are panhandlers.
Rick Kang says
Support Homeless Homes NOT panhandlers!
Flagler County Citizen says
If only these people living in the woods with depression, mental health disorders, traumatic histories, and/or learning disorders would stop buying alcohol and cigarettes with the money they get each day, they could afford a rental in Palm Coast. Rentals are cheap aren’t they? A studio maybe? There are a lot of rental options like studios, one bedrooms and shared units in the area, right? Oh, and get counseling and mental health therapy. For the cost of a pack a cigarettes a day, they surely can afford a mental health therapist. We don’t have government funded medical for single adults in Florida, so it must be pretty inexpensive to get that type of medical help.
Sarcasm aside, it’s certainly non-productive to contribute to their self-medicating. Yes, most buy cigarettes and alcohol with the panhandled money. I can’t really fault them. It’s a big challenge for the city, and there are certainly no easy solutions. I think if you were to investigate, these folks have deep challenges. And many of them have dropped out of society (and sobriety) willingly (or semi-willingly), and they don’t have the hope to get clean, move up and live the kind of life we think they should live. Many of these folks aren’t just temporarily poor people. They aren’t just broke. They’re sort of broken. More job opportunities and housing options won’t solve the problem. Expending Medicaid won’t solve the problem. Ordinances won’t solve the problem. It’s a deep problem, and Palm Coast and Flagler County aren’t fully equipped to solve it. Not yet, anyway.