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Fort Lauderdale's Anti-Panhandling Scheme Gets Attention From National Lawyers' Guild

There's a no-panhandling zone in downtown Miami, and Fort Lauderdale currently prohibits asking for change along the beach. But the Fort Lauderdale City Commission is considering some tough new regulations that would effectively ban panhandling in the entire downtown area. That's in addition to a proposed $26,000 campaign to tell people not to give money to beggars.


As expected, Mayor Jack Seiler -- who wants to keep hungry homeless people from gathering in Stranahan Park and was on his hands and knees planting shrubs there last month, perhaps to supplant these wayward souls -- supports the ban. "At the end of the day, it's a quality-of-life issue for residents, visitors, and even the individual out in the streets," the mayor told the Palm Beach Post.

Others are sounding less chipper about the plan. The National Lawyers' Guild, which frequently stands up for the homeless and organizations that serve them (like Food Not Bombs), sent out a statement condemning the ordinance. "Instead of seeking to address the issue of homelessness by offering housing or other forms of public assistance, the City of Fort Lauderdale seeks to simply force homeless residents out by criminalizing their very means of survival," the group says.

The local effort is being led by Mara Shlackman, an attorney and vice president of the guild's South Florida chapter. The group explains:

The ordinance would effectively prohibit anyone from asking for donations nearly anywhere in the downtown area, as it forbids panhandling within 15 feet of a bus, bus stop, sidewalk cafe, parking lot or garage, parking pay station, park, ATM, building, or private property. This covers nearly the entire downtown Fort Lauderdale area, effecting an unconstitutional infringement on residents' First Amendment right to ask for money for their own survival. In addition, the ordinance would prohibit any charitable organization, such as the Salvation Army or United Way, from soliciting donations nearly anywhere in the downtown area.

That outcry surely won't be good press for the City Commission as it considers how to implement the ordinance, and the guild's statement has already garnered some attention on the Huffington Post.

Violators of the new ordinance would have to pay a $500 fine and/or spend 60 days in jail. Wonder which one would be more feasible for homeless people.

Here's the list of where panhandling would be prohibited:

Bus stops or any public transportation facility.

Public transportation vehicle.

Area within 15 feet, in any direction, of a sidewalk café.

Parking lot, parking garage, or parking pay station owned or operated by the city.

Park owned or operated by the city.

Area within 15 feet, in any direction, of an automatic teller machine or entrance/exit of a commercial or city building.

Private property, unless the panhandler has permission from the owner of such property.

This is sure to spark some protests from local "people deserve to be able to eat" types, so stay tuned as the city tries to deal with an increasingly uncomfortable situation.

Stefan Kamph: Twitter | Facebook | Email


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