The city of St. Augustine’s plan to reduce panhandling includes using an educational campaign to dissuade people from paying those asking for a handout and instead helping in other ways, City Manager John Regan said Thursday.
“It’s a problem we can’t police our way out of,” Regan said at a St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce council meeting that drew dozens of business owners and city residents.
Regan told the crowd he wouldn’t share all of the details of the city’s plan until Monday’s City Commission meeting, explaining he wants commissioners to hear the details first and wants the city to put the plan in place right away. He said he expects to ask for funding to address panhandling and homelessness.
Commissioners will also get a presentation Monday from Michael Kahn about panhandling and possible legal remedies, according to a city news release. The city hired Kahn, a constitutional law expert, for advice on the issue.
Regan said the city has been working with St. Francis House, Home Again St. Johns and other agencies to come up with a coordinated plan. The educational plan will include developing materials that can be handed out, he said.
In the near future, the city plans to “survey” and educate homeless people, train Visitor Information Center staff, and educate visitors and residents about not paying panhandlers, according to a summary from Regan’s presentation provided as part of backup materials for the commission meeting.
Other goals include increasing the number of shelter beds, either at St. Francis House or elsewhere, and reviewing and updating city laws.
The city faces a complicated task in dealing with the increased levels of homelessness and panhandling, Regan said.
One issue is the city can’t force people who are sleeping on public property to leave unless there’s a shelter bed available — but St. Augustine has few available.
“Sleeping in public is dangerous for everyone,” Regan said.
Also, the city hasn’t been enforcing location restrictions on panhandling after a U.S. District Court case put the constitutionality of the rules in question. Rules against aggressive panhandling are still in place.
In the long-term, the city wants to get more involved in creating affordable and workforce housing in St. Johns County, according to Regan’s presentation.
New artists’ rules in the city were also in focus.
Assistant City Attorney Denise May described changes to rules to vendors, artists and performers that recently went into effect.
Among other things, the rules reserve spaces in the Plaza de la Constitucion market only for street artists — a term that is also created and defined by a new City Code.
Solely commercial ventures are no longer allowed in the Plaza, but people can sell things they create. Selling certain items, such as food, in the Plaza market is still prohibited.
For now, the city is trusting people to attest they’ll be selling things they’ve made, May said.
Police Chief Barry Fox said enforcement hasn’t been an issue so far.
“(People) seem to be playing by the rules,” Fox said.