Florida Keys News
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Toilet last straw for panhandling zone
Retooling of laws tightened the allowed area for these activities in public

Two years after creating two "panhandling zones" in Key West, city leaders will consider relocating the one placed at the entrance to the Mallory Square parking lot due to "substantial litter" that included a porcelain toilet, according to city attorneys.

The toilet, complete with a roll of tissue rigged up next to it, was photographed as evidence and attached to Tuesday's city commission agenda. Commissioners meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

"Local businesses have also lodged complaints to the mayor that the panhandlers appeared to be harassing passersby who do not wish to contribute but need to travel in very close proximity to the panhandling zone," wrote assistant city attorney Ron Ramsingh in a Feb. 19 memo to city commissioners.

Mayor Craig Cates is asking the commission to approve the moving of the Mallory Square panhandling zone to "an area less intrusive to visitors," the memo states.

The proposed resolution calls for keeping the zone inside the parking lot, though.

"Further, the mayor has proposed further delineating this new proposed area with low, see-through fencing, such as chain link, only on one side to buffer parked cars," Ramsingh wrote.

Two years ago, Cates led the charge to beef up Key West laws related to "quality of life" -- outdoor camping, open container and panhandling. All three directly affect many homeless men and women.

Quickly approved by the commission, the retooled laws restricted panhandling to only two spots on the island. Both are in Old Town -- the Mallory Square spot, and the end of Caroline Street by the ferry terminal at the historic seaport.

"Aggressive panhandling" is forbidden anywhere on the island, but the city allows for "passive panhandling" in these zones.

The zones were set up to fend off any lawsuits demanding a constitutional right to freedom of speech via panhandling.

In late 2011, Cates said he didn't expect people to actually beg for money in these zones. But the spots have become easy pickings for police patrolling for homeless men and women illegally drinking alcohol in public.

At Mallory Square's parking lot, people have left large boxes and other litter, according to reports by city staff.


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