Judging by recent reports on the issue, Orlandoans have a problem with downtown's panhandling population (re: homeless people). Now local organizations have commissioned a study to gain a better understanding.
The goal: to figure out how many homeless panhandlers are in the city, and how they spend their money. The six-month study, set to launch in September, will cost roughly $75,000 and will be paid for by local businesses and churches.
"I think what we might find is that a lot of these folks panhandling are truly homeless and are kind of the most challenged people in our society on a lot of different fronts," says Andrae Bailey, former CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homeless and founder of the Lead Homeless Initiative. "But again, the main point is that I could be wrong. There could be a bunch of professional panhandlers in disguises out here, as some believe."
Cue the confused shrugs to the latter part of Bailey's quote: Why would anyone assume suburban-living individuals would get really dirty every day just so they could come downtown and beg for money? And why does it even matter what panhandlers spend money on after a passerby forks it over?
The study comes as the city is set to launch a Downtown Ambassador
program next month. The idea is to hire staffers willing to take the initiative to approach panhandlers and try to talk them into relocating down the street or to help them gain access to social-service programs.
The pilot program will last for two years and cost about $725,000 annually.
In July 2017, after a series of court rulings found anti-panhandling laws elsewhere in the country to be unconstitutional, Orlando overturned its 2000 ordinance
limiting solicitation to a series of boxes outlined in blue paint. It also overturned the 2007 ban on nighttime panhandling.
The city passed a new law that prohibited soliciting handouts from cars stopped at intersections.
Under a section of law designated for "aggressive panhandling," the city also made it illegal to panhandle anyone using an ATM and for panhandlers to approach "captive audiences," such as folks waiting in a long line before an event. The law also says that panhandlers aren't allowed to ask for money a second time if initially rejected.
Apparently some members of the community find it pressing to figure out more about these roaming individuals.
Maybe that's a good thing after all. Or maybe it's completely pointless.
"I think homelessness can be very deceiving in the sense that you look at someone on the street and there's just a mystery to who they are and what's their real situation what's their real needs," Bailey says. "There's a human nature part of this where we want to believe that every person out there, you know, maybe is out there because they've made bad decisions, that they could pull themselves up by their boot straps – and in some cases that's true."
Bailey adds: "I think, when we're at our best as a community, we don't make assumptions. We don't use assumptions and conjecture to make public policy; we use facts, and we simply have never done a study or dataset on panhandling."
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