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St. Petersburg ordinance thins ranks of panhandlers, but there are desperate holdouts

Michael Ivy lost his ID card. Someone stole his bike. He's only trying to eat.

That's why he was at Fourth Street and Gandy Boulevard last Friday, holding a sign that read "Homeless Hungry Please Help."

That's why a St. Petersburg police officer arrested him under the city's new panhandling ordinance.

That's why he sat in the Pinellas County Jail on Wednesday morning, speaking from a video hookup.

"What else am I supposed to do?" the 59-year-old asked. "I'm a homeless man trying to make a dollar."

Ivy's one of about 15 people who have been cited through Monday for breaking St. Petersburg's new panhandling ordinance, which went into effect mid June. He's been charged six times, more than any other panhandler.

The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance to stop the increase in panhandling that troubled many neighborhood and business leaders. The law prohibits any transaction between pedestrians and motorists on the city's busiest streets.

Officer Richard Linkiewicz, head of St. Petersburg's homeless outreach program, said the ordinance's impact was quick.

Sign holders have mostly vanished from their perches near Interstate 275 exits and Fourth Street. Many have moved to Tampa and Hillsborough County, where shelters have seen a surge in meals served.

"When they passed the ordinance, it was overnight," Linkiewicz said. "Most people with signs just disappeared."

But not all.

Some panhandlers may have simply crossed the bridge, though it's impossible to know how many. In Pinellas County and St. Petersburg, it appears at least some holdouts remains.

Panhandling won't ever completely go away, said Jamie Bennett, a former City Council member who now works at Beacon House, a homeless shelter at 2151 Central Ave.

"There is a group that is confrontational about this issue," Bennett said. "And they make it their holy grail."

He said it's a lifestyle choice, and many people choose to live it.

Sitting in jail, Ivy said he can't speak for everybody, but he needs to panhandle stay alive.

"I don't have a choice," he said.

He makes about $20 a day, he said. Enough for soda, cigarettes and sometimes a burger from McDonald's.

He understands why the law was passed. Some people knock on car windows and bother folks, he said. That's not his style, he said.

"If you talk to me, I'll talk back," he said. "If someone offers me a cigarette, I'll take a smoke."

When he gets out of jail next Friday after serving his 10 days, Ivy's going to walk back to Fourth Street and Gandy, he said. He'll probably have another sign. And he'll probably get charged again.

Andy Boyle can be reached at (727) 893-8804 or aboyle@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg ordinance thins ranks of panhandlers, but there are desperate holdouts 08/12/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 10:52pm]
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