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Panhandlers say St. Petersburg street solicitation ban will make things worse

ST. PETERSBURG — Three homeless men bearing cardboard signs near Interstate 275 were not pleased when they read the newspaper Friday morning.

That's how they learned the City Council, with the mayor's support, unanimously voted to ban street solicitation on St. Petersburg's busiest streets.

The move affects the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual fundraising campaign, newspaper hawkers and panhandlers like the trio spread out near the I-275 exit and entrance ramps on Fifth Avenue N.

"They don't care about us," said Bernie Zingg, 57, a couple of hours after reading the news in tbt*. "They just shove us all around."

He stood at the corner with a sign — "Homeless Man/Anything Helps/God Bless You/Please Help!!" — and a cigarette, watching as cars soared by or idled at the red light.

Zingg thought the council would back down in the face of opposition from the MDA, the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune.

To Zingg and his friend, Jeff Hanwell, 55, the council's unanimous decision was unfathomable.

"They're just making things worse," Hanwell said.

Council member Bill Dudley said at Thursday's late-night meeting that residents overwhelmingly support the ordinance" as a way to curb panhandling.

Several neighborhood leaders at the meeting said they wanted a crackdown on panhandlers who wander residential areas.

Enforcement of the ordinance begins June 13.

Zingg said the move will backfire. Others who rely on panhandling for income may turn to purse snatching or other crimes to make ends meet, he said, stressing he won't be among them.

Besides, he said, "if we don't do it here, we'll do it somewhere else."

The pair thought it might be worth taking a bus to Tampa, where panhandling is legal. They would just need to buy a neon vest, Zingg said.

Virgil Olson, 61, stood idly along Fifth Avenue N with his cardboard sign, a Veterans Affairs Department badge clipped near the top identifying him as a military veteran.

The former mechanic said the city is taking away the only method he's found to cope with the poor economy, where jobs are scarce and people are less generous than they used to be.

"You've got to depend on something," he said.

A cardboard sign lay a few feet away. He had amended his usual plea with a scrawled update: "Deadline 6-13"

Panhandlers say St. Petersburg street solicitation ban will make things worse 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 11:11pm]
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