Give to a Beggar on the Street, Go to Jail? Maybe in Florida…

Here we go again with Florida. From the LA Times:

Dare to buy red roses or a newspaper from a street vendor, and soon you could be breaking the law.

At least in Oakland Park, Fla.

Citing traffic safety concerns, officials in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of 42,000 tentatively approved an ordinance targeting not only panhandlers and peddlers, but the people who give to them or buy something from them.

Under the ordinance initially passed last month, anyone who responds to a beggar with money or any “article of value” or buys flowers or a newspaper from someone on the street would face a fine of $50 to $100 and as many as 90 days in jail.

There was only one “no” vote against the ordinance, cast by City Commissioner Suzanne Boisvenue, who said: “You’re going to put someone in jail for giving someone a coat when it’s cold or a hamburger if they’re hungry? For me, it’s so wrong.”

To be clear, the rule only applies to beggars and vendors on the street and not those on the sidewalk. So the rule isn’t quite as harsh as it may seem at first blush. Nevertheless, I find this ordinance extremely unpalatable. Outlawing charity to the homeless or the very needy seems a rather callous and tone-deaf move in any year, but a year like this – with high unemployment, foreclosure rates, and homelessness – well, I have to wonder, is this really the most pressing issue the city of Oakland Park faces? Why criminalize more people for previously legal activities? Why focus on criminalizing society’s most vulnerable?

Poverty is not a crime.

Also in Florida, in 1992,

federal court struck down a [Miami] city ordinance … holding that “[Miami’s] practice of arresting homeless individuals for performing essential, life-sustaining acts in public” violated the homeless plaintiffs’ rights to travel, and due process under the 14th Amendment, and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.


One thought on “Give to a Beggar on the Street, Go to Jail? Maybe in Florida…

  1. Ugh, I live just off Oakland Park Blvd, but pretty far west of the actual community of Oakland Park.

    Reminds me of when they wanted to move the homeless mission off of the main drag in Tallahassee. To make it less visible, of course. I was hoping they’d move the mission to the capitol steps. Homelessness needs more visibility, not less.

    Can’t wait to leave Florida.

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