On first day, Tampa's ban all but clears streets of panhandlers

While holding his cane and sign, Ronald Burden of Tampa leans over to kiss the hand of a woman who gave him a $1 bill at N Dale Mabry Highway and W Spruce Street on Tuesday. “I’m trying to get enough money to survive” Burden said.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

While holding his cane and sign, Ronald Burden of Tampa leans over to kiss the hand of a woman who gave him a $1 bill at N Dale Mabry Highway and W Spruce Street on Tuesday. “I’m trying to get enough money to survive” Burden said.

The first day of Tampa's new ban on street begging mostly cleared city medians of panhandlers, but some could soon return to sell a "street newspaper" geared toward the homeless.

As the six-day-per-week ban went into effect Tuesday, police were ready to give everyone one warning, then start arrests.

But by 2:30 p.m., police had spoken to only one panhandler, a man at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue. He said he didn't know about the ban and left. Officers took his name to be logged into police computers.

Outside the Faith Cafe, a Kennedy Boulevard soup kitchen, Stanley Harrell, 55, said he would have to cut his spending.

Harrell said he panhandled for about five years. He used to make $60 some days, but in the past year, as panhandling became more competitive in Tampa, that dropped to about $6 or $8 a day.

"It'd still help," he said, adding that he would use it to buy food and clothes. Now he'll rely solely on the $600 in disability payments he gets each month.

Donna Crider, who is homeless, said she didn't panhandle Tuesday, not because of the ban but because she takes Tuesdays off. She said she might continue to stand with her sign, telling drivers to have a blessed day.

"I never did ask for money," she said. "If they want to give me money, that's their business."

She would usually make $20 to $25 a day in food money.

"How will I survive now? I don't know," said Crider, 54. "I'm going to have to rely on the Lord."

Police consider Tuesday a success. They say their education efforts beforehand worked and likely spread by word-of-mouth.

"The last thing we want to do is arrest somebody who's legitimately out there trying to ask for donations, who's down on their luck," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

One alternative to panhandling could come in the form of the Tampa Epoch, a monthly "street newspaper" expected to debut in mid November.

While Tampa's ban prohibits panhandling every day but Sunday, it allows street-corner newspaper sales seven days a week.

Bill Sharpe, publisher of the South Tampa Community News, said he got the idea after someone told him about a similar newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., in response to a column he wrote.

Sharpe is seeking sponsors for the newspaper, which would include paid ads as well as content featuring and geared toward helping the homeless.

A $25 sponsorship would allow the Epoch to provide a vendor with 25 free newspapers, a T-shirt, a name badge and a supervisor to help establish the business. After that, vendors could buy papers for 25 cents each and keep 75 cents from reselling them.

Sharpe said he has talked to nonprofit groups about recruiting vendors and hopes eventually to field 100 to 150 hawkers.

"It's a help for some people," he said. "They might be homeless, but they're somebody who's trying to be a responsible business entrepreneur on their own."

Tampa's ordinance defines what a newspaper is and requires a vendor to have an established relationship with it.

If the Tampa Epoch and its vendors meet the requirements, "I'm not sure that would be any different than if they went out to sell the (Tampa) Tribune and the (St. Petersburg) Times," City Attorney Jim Shimberg Jr. said.

It's an interesting idea, said the sponsor of Tampa's ban.

"From my understanding, it would be allowed under the ordinance," City Council member Harry Cohen said. "We'll just have to see where it goes."

On first day, Tampa's ban all but clears streets of panhandlers 11/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 12:03am]

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