Update, Sept. 9: Panhandling ordinance passes — with a catch
The DeLand City Commission passed an ordinance updating city rules regarding where people can beg for money, with a catch — a previous prohibition on panhandling in Downtown DeLand is off the books.
City Commissioner Charles Paiva was absent when the commission first discussed updating the city’s panhandling ordinance, but, present at the Sept. 8 City Commission meeting, he had thoughts about just how to regulate panhandling.
“I was completely in favor of strengthening our ordinances to not allow people to get in our roadway, to go up to cars,” he told The Beacon. “To me, that’s a public safety issue, not a freedom of speech issue.”
What he did not support was the prohibition of non-aggressive panhandling within Downtown DeLand’s limits — excluding some locations, such as near ATMs.
“For me, I feel like if someone’s just merely asking a question, that falls under freedom of speech,” Paiva said. “I just felt like we didn’t need to legislate that part of it.”
City Manager Michael Pleus said the preventing non-aggressive panhandling in Downtown DeLand is very difficult and he supported the alteration to the ordinance.
“It’s difficult for us to have patrols go up and down Downtown enforcing regular panhandling where you ask for money, someone says no and they walk away. It’s just not done,” he said. “I just don’t know that’s a huge loss to the ordinance if you take that part out.”
The altered ordinance passed with a 4-1 vote, with City Commissioner Jessica Davis dissenting. Davis’ primary concern was the lack of evidence to support other aspects of the ordinance. City Attorney Darren Elkind cited many studies relating to panhandling, but all but the traffic studies were performed in cities other than DeLand.
The original story about the proposed panhandling ordinance is below.
DeLand tightens language on panhandling law
The City of DeLand may soon more strictly regulate where people can beg for money. A new ordinance passed on its first reading Aug. 16 with three city commissioners in support, one commissioner against and one absent.
People would be prohibited from panhandling in the median of nine “high risk” intersections.
The new ordinance would tighten existing language after a 2020 St. Augustine court case was decided in favor of a man begging for money, City Attorney Darren Elkind said.
Panhandling is already prohibited on a number of roadways, near bus and train stops and near ATMs. Panhandling is also prohibited in the Downtown DeLand area, except on government property and during events when traffic is blocked off.
The goal of regulating panhandling, Elkind told the City Commission, is to ensure the safety of drivers and people trying to collect money at busy intersections as DeLand’s roads get busier and busier.
“The bigger a city gets, the more successful it is, the more panhandling you have,” Elkind said. “It just goes hand in hand with traffic.”
In searching through DeLand Police Department records, Officer Luis Vazquez said there were no records of panhandling citations issued by the DeLand Police Department.
Updates to the city’s panhandling rules were necessary, Elkind said, because previous regulations were based on Florida statutes prohibiting panhandling that were recently declared unconstitutional. If the city’s rules are updated with this ordinance, the Police Department would have more authority to prevent panhandling Downtown and in other prohibited locations.
Panhandling can’t be outright banned, as solicitation is speech protected by the First Amendment.
“The other thing that I want you to realize is that we don’t look at who’s doing the panhandling,” Elkind added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s somebody who’s holding up a sign that’s saying ‘I’m homeless, I’m hungry, please help,’ or if it’s the Fire Department with their boots doing a drive, or if it’s a football team raising money for the season. It all gets treated the same.”
Another caveat is this: Passively holding a sign that says “Anything helps” is not technically panhandling. To panhandle is defined as “to ask for, demand or solicit money, gifts or donations either by words, bodily gestures, signs or other means.” “Passively standing or sitting” with a sign requesting donations does not count as panhandling.
And then there is a distinction between “passive” and “aggressive” panhandling — what can be prohibited is “aggressive” panhandling, anywhere, and panhandling on specific properties.
“Aggressive” panhandling is defined by the city as approaching or speaking to an individual in such a way that the individual may feel threatened with bodily harm, among other threats. Aggressive panhandling is already against the law anywhere in DeLand.
Of the four city commissioners present at the meeting, most said they had experienced aggressive panhandling over the years. City Commissioners Kevin Reid and Chris Cloudman said they had experienced aggressive panhandling, but Cloudman said it had been some time since he had. City Commissioner Jessica Davis said she has not experienced aggressive panhandling, but does not doubt that it happens. Mayor Bob Apgar said he had also experienced aggressive panhandling, but not recently.
Cloudman said he had experienced aggressive behavior from people asking for money in various parking lots around town and near ATMs, which is already prohibited under current city codes.
Cloudman said he hoped passage of the ordinance would get more people to give money to charities that help people around DeLand.
“If they weren’t having success, they wouldn’t continue to stand in the intersection and ask for money,” Cloudman said. “Obviously I don’t want it to come across as something mean or something we’re doing against homeless people.”
The DeLand Police Department conducted a traffic study identifying eight dangerous intersections where traffic accidents are more likely to occur.
The intersections are:
- Woodland Boulevard and Violetwood Road
- Woodland Boulevard and Old Daytona Road
- Woodland Boulevard and U.S. Highway 92
- U.S. Highway 92 and Amelia Avenue
- U.S. Highway 17-92 and Plymouth Avenue
- Woodland Boulevard and Beresford Avenue
- Woodland Boulevard and Orange Camp Road
- New York Avenue and State Road 15A.
At these “high-risk” intersections, sitting or standing in the median, unless crossing the road, would be prohibited.
The City of DeLand’s existing panhandling rules already prohibited panhandling along Woodland Boulevard, International Speedway Boulevard, New York Avenue, Plymouth Avenue, Amelia Avenue, Spring Garden Avenue, and Taylor Road.
Additionally, the current panhandling rules prohibit begging for money in most of the Downtown DeLand area — between Ohio Avenue to the north, Voorhis Avenue to the south, Alabama Avenue to the east and Florida Avenue to the west.
That is, except for events.
“That almost seems counterproductive to me that we’re bringing, say, the art festival, thousands of people from out of town, and their experience coming to DeLand is we’re now encouraging panhandling during that event,” Cloudman said.
Elkind explained that if the rationale for the ordinance is to protect panhandlers and drivers from blocking or being endangered by traffic, not much of an excuse can be made when streets are closed and vehicles are blocked out of the Downtown area.
Plus, Elkind said, it’s hard to legally prevent people from ever going Downtown.
“From a business perspective, sure, it’s counterintuitive, but we’re looking at it purely through a lens of what a judge would do,” attorney Elkind said. “How can we justify any sort of public-safety concern when we’ve shut down the Downtown for a special event?”
Rules regarding panhandling in the Downtown area already exist in the city’s current panhandling rules, too. The changes in the new ordinance are minor tweaks to existing language.
Why make a change?
The tweaks were made, Elkind said, because given updates to Florida statutes, the existing rules were largely toothless.
Violation of the new panhandling ordinance would be treated as a city ordinance violation, punishable by, per city code, “a fine not exceeding $500.00 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 60 days or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
But DeLand police Officer Mike Stacy said the ultimate goal is just to get people away from busy intersections, not into jail.
The DeLand Police Department, he and Chief Jason Umberger said, partnered with SMA Healthcare and The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia to provide alternatives to arrest. If a person receives a city misdemeanor citation for panhandling in a prohibited location, they can complete a program with one of the participating organizations and have the charge erased.
City Commissioner Jessica Davis said she favored preventive measures, and worried the ordinance would cause law enforcement to become involved in situations prematurely.
Specifically, Davis took issue with a portion of the ordinance that suggested panhandling is directly tied to crime, which Elkind said no studies have been done locally to suggest.
The ordinance passed with a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Davis the only dissenting vote, and Commissioner Charles Paiva absent.
Davis cited her concerns brought up during the meeting and told The Beacon she did not feel the updated ordinance was necessary.
“I did not feel their survey warranted the changes, and there was no data to support some of the language mentioned in the ordinance,” she said.
To become law, the ordinance will need to pass at a second reading planned during the next DeLand City Commission meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, in City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave.
To read the full language of the ordinance, visit the City of DeLand website, HERE, or click view the document below.