Panhandlers less visible as Tampa ban begins
TAMPA - Panhandlers, where are you? A controversial panhandling ordinance went into effect in Tampa this morning, banning street solicitations on city roads except on Sundays. Today, many panhandlers weren't out at their usual street corners. "Not seeing any at all, really. I've seen one all day," Tampa police Sgt. Greg Coller said. "It's evident that the word definitely got out."Panhandlers are well aware the ordinance went into effect, and they know going to jail would make their lives more difficult, said Lesa Weikel, spokeswoman for the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County. "If they have criminal records, it would be harder for them to get a job, and then it would be harder for them to afford housing," she said. Violators can be fined up to $500 and jailed for up to 60 days. Panhandlers will receive at least one warning before they're subject to arrest, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. No arrests have been made so far. Coller said police hope everybody abides by the warning and that officers don't need to arrest anyone. He also said he doesn't believe banning panhandling will lead panhandlers "to turn to a criminal means to make money." While many complied with the ordinance, 36-year-old panhandler Joseph Skillman remained on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler Avenue, even after an officer warned him to stop panhandling earlier today. Skillman held a sign alerting commuters that "Even a quarter would be a blessing!!!" The Fort Myers native, who has been panhandling for five years, said the ordinance is going to be tough on the homeless. "They have to figure out other ways of making money, and sometimes it's hard to find work," he said. Skillman, who said he came to the area for mechanic work until the business folded, said he is going to look for different ways to make money now that the ban is in effect. He stuck around on the corner this morning so he could "find a few things to eat before I can live in the woods," he said. Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries, said his agency didn't see a huge influx of the homeless today at its outreach center. But Weikel said just as many homeless are out on Tampa's streets today as there were Monday. She doesn't expect many to move elsewhere despite the panhandling ban. Now, she said, the homeless are just not as visible. "Just because a panhandling ban went into effect doesn't mean they're not just as much in need as they were yesterday," she said.
Photojournalist Paul Lamison contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7691