By: Sharon Aron Baron
The Oakland Park City Commission agreed last Wednesday to have the city attorney draft an ordinance that would prevent people from collecting money in the public right-of-way.
Fort Lauderdale Police began enforcing their new ordinance in May which established no-panhandling zones in the downtown area, it also bans “aggressive” panhandling which includes repeatedly begging after being told no or approaching a person in a “threatening” manner. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor and a possible $500 fine which could result 60 days in jail as well.
The City of Tamarac has a problem at intersections not only with panhandlers, but children collecting money for their schools. Someone is going to get hurt with the way they dodge in and out of traffic on the streets.
On Thursday, while driving through the busy intersection of University Drive and Commercial Boulevard, there were children holding buckets panhandling for money. These children were walking throughout traffic and not staying on the medians. Last week, I witnessed the same thing at McNab and University Drive: Children walking through traffic raising money for their travel football team with no adult in sight.
I brought this up to the city on Wednesday and was met with some interest, mostly skepticism from the commission. Mayor Talabisco said as a concerned parent, I should have contacted the children’s school. Commissioner Harry Dressler said that banning panhandlers may impede on their constitutional freedom of speech.
City Attorney Sam Goren was aware of the news of Oakland Park as well as Fort Lauderdale’s ordinances and said that they are going to be monitoring the actions and pending proposals of the two cities. He genuinely was interested, however, he can only give recommendations as our Mayor and Commissioners would vote on any upcoming ordinances.
To see how a city has limited panhandling in their streets, Tamarac should look no further than the City of Miramar who successfully stopped all panhandling back in December 2010. What they did was not ban panhandling, but ban panhandling at certain intersections.
Namely, all the busy ones.
In effect, panhandling became unprofitable in Miramar and the street vendors moved elsewhere.
I spoke to Tania Rues, Miramar Police Department Public Information Officer who said that their Code Compliance Department brought the idea for the ordinance forward after several injuries including a death.
In 2006, a man selling newspapers was killed in a hit and run which remains unsolved. Several other people have been injured over the years due to panhandling at their busy intersections. Rues also said that there were children as young as 8-9 years old soliciting money for their athletic teams with very little supervision.
The ordinance was created as a safety measure so that there wouldn’t be any more injuries.
After the ban went into effect, there was a period of 30-60 days where the Miramar Police educated the public by giving out pamphlets to the panhandlers. After that, they gave out warnings and have never had any arrests since its inception in 2010.
The panhandlers soon moved on and panhandling has stopped in Miramar.
As far as the threats of a lawsuit by the Homeless Voice, those have been all talk.
There is hope for our city and the safety of children and street vendors. In a statement from the City Attorney’s office, “The City may choose to consider this matter further as more information becomes available. In the meantime, we are studying the matter closely.”