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Tampa panhandlers say ban could trigger crime and homelessness

TAMPA — It was Mother Nature and steady downpours that hampered panhandlers' efforts to collect cash on Friday.

But many said they were aware that another force, the Tampa City Council, was considering a proposal that could restrict them from collecting money rain or shine.

Joshua Atkins stood in a median on Florida Avenue at Busch Boulevard, holding up a soggy sign and accepting anything that motorists offered.

He wasn't surprised that the council wants to restrict panhandling, but he predicted devastating consequences.

"I would be homeless without one penny coming into my name at all," he said. "By the grace of the people of the city of Tampa, I'm able to survive."

He looks for work every day, he said, but can't find anything. Panhandling keeps a roof over his head.

The St. Petersburg Times spoke to street solicitors at several Tampa intersections. Only some knew of the council's efforts to curb panhandling, which would also restrict newspaper sales and charity solicitations.

They said the ban might force panhandlers onto neighborhood streets or lead to more crime. But most said they weren't quite sure what the effects will be or what to do if an ordinance passes.

At Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler Avenue, at least six panhandlers at a time approached vehicles.

Byron Knight, 19, crouched near a traffic control box at the corner, waiting for an opportunity. "It's so many people out here, so we take turns," he said.

If people can't panhandle, he said, they may turn to crime.

"They're going to end up robbing people," he said.

Most of those around him Friday work intersections during the day and then return at night to a Florida Avenue shelter operated by Homeless Helping Homeless.

John Stanfield, 52, has been living there for about a month. During the week, he gives Homeless Helping Homeless 75 percent of what he collects, he said. He also panhandles alone on Saturdays and sells newspapers on Sundays.

He said if the council approves the restrictions, he might ask store managers if he can panhandle in parking lots. He already has approval to hawk papers that way.

But he doubts the managers will agree to that.

Carlos Torres, 33, partnered with Stanfield in the same median. He worries that a ban would put the homeless shelter out of business, causing him to lose his home of three days.

He said the organization may try to collect donations on side streets, but figures contributions will go from bad to worse.

"Right here you really don't do much," he said, shrugging at the busy intersection.

Three times a week, Luke Woods walks to the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard. He said a ban on panhandling at busy intersections would leave him with no options.

"I don't know what I might do, to be honest with you," he said.

Though he sometimes picks up odd jobs, panhandling is his main source of income.

"I'm not out here trying to hurt nobody," said Woods, 29. "I'm not out here trying to sell drugs."

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Tampa panhandlers say ban could trigger crime and homelessness 01/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 11:35pm]
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