Banning panhandling on the county's major intersections for six days each week doesn't address the larger problems of unemployment and homelessness, but at least Pasco commissioners stopped short of adding to the jobless rate.
A commission majority, following the suggestion from a private attorney representing the Tampa Tribune, said Tuesday it will entertain a new ordinance that will permit charitable soliciting, newspaper vending and panhandling on public rights of way only on Sundays. The county's own traffic crash data shows why. Sunday is the safest day of the week on the county's roads, with the number of accidents dropping by as much as 45 percent compared to some weekdays.
By backing the compromise — instead of an outright ban or an alternative requiring businesses and charities to undergo a burdensome regulatory process — commissioners recognized the value of allowing continued, though limited, access to the rights of way for legitimate vendors, charities and for those who are down on their luck.
That certainly is preferable to a proposed ban or tighter regulations disguised wrongly as a way to make pedestrians safer and to improve traffic flow. Such bans, like the one adopted last year in the city of St. Petersburg, are a flawed response to an uncomfortable political problem — residents are tired of seeing beggars on street corners. The Pasco proposal came in part over citizen complaints about the legitimacy of some charitable solicitations conducted from road medians.
We acknowledge the St. Petersburg Times has a financial interest in this issue. Under the original proposal, people hired to sell newspapers on Sundays would have been banned from intersections. But so would firefighters and other groups soliciting for charitable causes. Putting more people out of work (the Tribune reported it uses 115 hawkers and eight supervisors to sell 13,000 copies of the newspaper on Sundays) and reducing donations for charities would have been a wrong and narrow approach to a larger problem.
Asking deputies to shoo the panhandlers away from major intersections might improve appearances, but does little to address the county's homeless issue. Housing, job training, mental health care and other services are the real need and would be a better use of government's limited resources. The guy with the "will work for food'' sign might be off the intersection Monday through Saturday, but he's not out of the community and neither are the rest of the nearly 1,600 people in Pasco County considers chronically homeless.