Homeless advocates, elected officials battle over panhandling laws

Oakland Park enacts law limiting, banning street selling, panhandling

OAKLAND PARK, Fla. - Intersections and streets in Broward County are increasingly becoming battle zones as elected official and homeless advocates fight over panhandling laws.

Cities are trying to keep panhandlers, sellers and solicitors out of the road at traffic lights, claiming it is a safety issue.  Homeless advocates dispute that, saying elected officials are just trying to make their cities more beautiful.

Oakland Park just enacted one such law.

Ralph Monterey has been working the corner of U.S. 1 and Griffin Road for more than five years, selling Homeless Voice newspapers to drivers stopped at red lights and occasionally dodging his customers' cars. 

"One lady, she scraped me with her truck in the arm," Monterey said.  "We just laughed, no big deal."

It is a big deal to elected officials in Oakland Park and other cities in Broward County, who have enacted laws to limit or ban street selling or panhandling, claiming it's a safety issue. 

"It strictly targets the homeless.  It targets people who depend on getting $3 or $4 for a sandwich," said Sean Cononie of The Homeless Voice. 

"This is not safety for the homeless -- this is safety for the people who don't want to see them on the streets," said Father Bob Caudill of All Saints Soup Kitchen.

Traffic experts say 3 percent of all crashes in Florida involve pedestrians.  Traffic Engineer Miles Moss has been studying traffic for 40 years and often serves as an expert court witness, who analyzes and reconstructs crashes.  He has studied vendors and the homeless going car to car.

"From what I've seen statistically, it's not a problem.  Looking at it from the potential of a high-injury accident, it's not a potential high-injury accident," Moss said. 

Moss said there are ways to keep panhandlers safe, like requiring safety vests. 

"There's no reason why the city can't buy a hundred of these and check them out," Moss said.  "Let people come in and leave a deposit, take them out and drop them back off."

Caudill's soup kitchen in Oakland Park feeds about 200 people a day.  He said the ban only hurts the homeless. 

"The city isn't really looking for solutions or caring for all the citizens, just the citizens that have money," Caudill said.

Local 10 contacted Oakland Park city officials by phone and email asking for comment on this story, but they never responded.  Homeless Voice lawyers have filed suit against other cities, and those cases are working through the courts.

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