Why an ordinance
Florida is the number one state for pedestrian fatalities. The Melbourne-Palm Bay area is the fourth highest area in the state for pedestrian fatalities. Because our citizens are being killed in traffic more than in all but three other areas in the number one state for pedestrian fatalities, the Melbourne City Council has created an ordinance that it hopes will curtail this statistic.
What the ordinance does
The proposed ordinance bans an exchange between a panhandler and a person in a vehicle in a travel lane. If passed, both givers and receivers could potentially face fines and, or jail time.
What the ordinance does not do
The ordinance does not ban panhandling. A person will not be charged for standing on a street corner with a sign. A charitable giver will not be charged if they exit the travel lane to give a panhandler food, money, or some other form of assistance. The exchange between giver and receiver must take place in a parking lot or some other area out of travel lanes that will not create a potentially dangerous situation for other cars or for pedestrians.
At a previous meeting, Council member Yvonne Minus shared how she had to slam on her brakes as a panhandler ran in front of her car to reach for a donation being waved out of a window of another car. City Attorney, Alison Dawley, shared that while being in a line of cars making a left turn through an intersection she too had to slam on her breaks because the first car in the line suddenly stopped to hand something to a panhandler.
Council member Mimi Hanley shared a similar incident. The light had turned green, the cars began to move, and a panhandler ran right in front of her car to reach a person who was waving a donation out of their window.
These are the potentially deadly situations the Melbourne City Council wishes to prevent.
Reaction to the ordinance
Angry citizens vehemently attacked Melbourne’s Council members, accusing them of being cold hearted and uncompassionate. The Council was accused of criminalizing compassion. Melbourne’s City Council was, of course, doing no such thing.
If those outraged citizens that spoke at the July 27 meeting had paid attention to what the ordinance actually states, rather than grandstanding, they would understand that no one is criminalizing compassion. If those who attacked Melbourne’s City Council had taken time to learn who Council members are, and what they do for the community, they would have learned that the members of Melbourne’s City Council are extremely compassionate individuals who work every day to improve life in Melbourne for all citizens.
Every single Council member is involved in charitable giving. Every single Council member supports and takes part in charity events. Council members fundraise and celebrate citizens for exceptional conduct. The members of Melbourne’s City Council work hand in hand with food pantries and homeless outreach organizations.
One woman, who redressed the Council, shared how her neighbor needed to panhandle because his checkered past made it difficult to land a job. She explained that her neighbor needed $12 to do the family laundry. I don’t know this woman, the fact that she took time to speak at the meeting shows that she cares on some level, but I wish she had paid close attention to what the ordinance does and does not do. And where was her compassion? She couldn’t help this man out with a few dollars. Perhaps not. Could she not help this man find work in the neighborhood that would allow him to do the family laundry without panhandling? There is always someone who needs a dog walked or a lawn mowed.
Panhandling should never be looked upon as a way of life. It’s not a job. Those who chose to express outrage at the meeting chose to ignore the fact that the ordinance is being proposed over the safety issues involved in panhandling.
One woman came to the microphone and asked the Council—“Where is the love?” I’m sure this woman is also a compassionate person who cares for humanity. To her I would say the love is in the fact that Council members put themselves under a microscope to run for office so they can contribute to their community on a daily basis, the love is in the fact that Council members have served in the military, or on the police force, the love is in the fact that these people work with homeless shelters and food pantries every day and ask—what do we need to do to improve service for our most vulnerable citizens? The love is in the fact that members of the Melbourne City Council work tirelessly to clean up the Indian River Lagoon and work tirelessly in support of their churches and have full time jobs on top of that and answer 200 emails in a day. The love is in the fact that they don’t want Melbourne to be on any more top four lists for traffic fatalities.
That’s where the love is. Pay close attention, the ordinance is not stating that a person cannot pull over, get out of their car, walk over to a panhandler, and present them with some form of assistance. And if you’re angry with the Melbourne City Council because you feel that having to pull out of your way to offer assistance to a panhandler is too much of an effort for you, then how compassionate are you.
In her attempt to make council members appear to be haters of the homeless, this woman expressed anger because Council members support business owners who complain about the homeless urinating on the steps of their businesses.
“They’re homeless, they have nowhere else to go”. That’s silly, it’s an absolutely ridiculous argument, and it makes you appear agenda driven.
Would you like to come to work at your business and be greeted by urine-soaked steps? Would you like your customers or clients to be greeted by urine-soaked steps? Better yet, would you like the homeless to urinate on the front steps of your home every day and have someone imply that you’re a heartless jerk for complaining about it?
Not to be indelicate, but certainly the homeless can find plenty of places to take care of nature calls before resorting to the steps of someone’s business.
Shame on you for attempting to vilify business owners who want the steps of their businesses to remain urine free.
Redirect the outrage
There doesn’t need to be an us verses them attitude. If you want to let the world know what an amazingly compassionate person you are, you don’t need to call the Council a bunch of jerks to make yourself look like Mother Teresa. The Melbourne City Council works tirelessly with organizations such as South Brevard Sharing Center, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Daily Bread; there are plenty of opportunities for a compassionate person to use their energy for good. Find out what you can do to help, rather than to attack those who are already extremely involved in the cause of the homeless.
At a Melbourne City Council meeting a few months back, one of the food bank directors promised that he could take one dollar and turn in into five dollars. So rather than give one panhandler (who may or may not actually be homeless) one dollar, consider giving the dollar to a food pantry where it will be used to feed more than one person.
For volunteer opportunities:
South Brevard Sharing Center: 321-727-8581
Daily Bread: 321-723-1060
Second Harvest Food Bank: 321-733-1600
The panhandling ordinance was passed by a unanimous vote. Mimi Hanley expressed a desire to abstain from voting on the ordinance, however the item required a roll call vote. Hanley hesitated to vote aye, weighing out the consequences of the ordinance, but in the end she did vote to pass the item along with the rest of the Council.
The next reading
The panhandling ordinance will have a second reading which will take place at the next regular meeting of the Melbourne City Council: Tuesday, August 9 at 6:30 pm at Melbourne City Hall 900 E Strawbridge Ave, Melbourne, FL 32901.