No stopping, sitting or standing: New restrictions force the homeless from public spaces, critics say

Aubrey Lowery, Multimedia Journalist

In the past few months, new restrictions on what can and can’t be done in public have made living on the streets as a homeless person a potentially criminal offense. Jacksonville passed the Panhandling bill on Feb. 14, which would make taking and giving money and goods to a pedestrian on roadways a crime.

The new law hopes to make the median safer, preventing people from standing in the middle of the road by busy intersections. This comes as the result of increased pedestrian car accidents in the past few years, however, critics say it’s a direct attack on the homeless. 

Right by the University of North Florida entrance, beside the highway ramp, it is typical to see homeless people asking for help. However, the number of safety concerns that arose from these actions have caused the need for reform. 

UNFPD Chief Francis Mackesy knows about the problem since the university is responsible for the area leading up to the highway ramp. Panhandlers put themselves and drivers at risk and have been known to litter in the area, he said.

Ordinance 2022-0574, the name of the newly passed panhandling bill in Jacksonville, written on a piece of cardboard.
Ordinance 2022-0574, the name of the newly passed panhandling bill in Jacksonville, is written on a piece of cardboard.

The bill, proposed by Councilman Al Ferraro and Kevin Carrico, states, “It is unlawful for any person to engage in any physical interaction between a pedestrian and an occupant of a motor vehicle, including but not limited to the transfer of any product or material, while the motor vehicle is not legally parked and is located on the traveled  portion of a designated roadway.”

The newly passed law will charge both the giver and the receiver if they are caught interacting on the road. 

Panhandling is considered a form of soliciting by the Free Speech Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit public policy center. According to their website, opponents of panhandling regulation see it as “blatant suppression of the First Amendment rights of the poor and dispossessed.”

The Big Picture

While banning panhandling has been cited as a safety regulation, many view it as another regulation for the homeless. 

Homeless people often have to rely on public places like parks or beaches to spend the night, but now that might not be an option. 

“[UNF] campus only has one or two occurrences like this per year,” said Mackesy, where homeless people have tried to stay on campus overnight. 

However, with the new additions of benches and other outdoor seating, it is unclear whether that number will increase as public places continue to restrict sleeping overnight. 

Jacksonville Code of Ordinances states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to camp or otherwise sleep overnight in or upon any park, beach, dock, marina or other recreational facility, without first having obtained a permit to do so from the director.”

Similarly, Atlantic Beach approved a law that banned anyone from sleeping in public spaces last year. But unlike most laws, police officers are required to offer any resources that may be available. 

There are six homeless shelters in the Jacksonville area that can accommodate up to 1,100 people. However, that leaves over 2,300 unsheltered, according to the Florida Times Union.

Other issues abound as a result. When a homeless person is arrested, it adds to jail overflow problems, former mayor Ellen Glasser told First Coast News when the Atlantic Beach law was passed in 2022. 

“It clogs the system, it does no good for misdemeanor crimes,” she said. “They are released, they come back to the beach, then they just move from one jurisdiction to the next.”

Urban Institute conducted a study showing how closely linked homelessness and prison are. They found that many homeless people often resort to jail time because, in contrast to the struggle on the streets, they are fed and have a roof over their heads.


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