Sunday, July 24, 2011

Panhandling in Paradise: Part 2

This is part 2 of a series started yesterday. If you missed part 1 (Shame on you!)you may want to check-out yesterday's blog. Try to keep up.

Alarmed that I might be turning into a Republican, I checked my hair in the car mirror to make sure I wasn't developing a suspicious Sarah Palin poof and wearing a red power suit. Assured that it was still me in the mirror and not a former vice-presidential candidate, I had to find-out what had occurred in Tampa to spawn this out-of-control proliferation of panhandling on virtually every street corner. I went back to the hotel and Googled.

From what I could tell from various sources such as "The Tampa Tribune" and "St. Petersburg Times", here is how it went down: The city leadership in Tampa could not pass an ordinance making panhandling illegal because then the people who stand on the median to sell newspapers on Sunday would be in violation of this ordinance.

Exercise: Find any school-age child under the age of ten. Show him/her the following pictures of 1. A newspaper seller; and 2. A panhandler. Ask him/her if he/she can tell the difference. City leaders in Tampa cannot. Apparently the only way they could tell the difference was the reflective vests that the newspaper vendors wore. Once the panhandlers donned the magic reflective vests, nobody in Tampa city government was capable of distinguishing the difference between the two.

1. Newspaper seller


It seems some 60% of people polled in Tampa supported a ban on panhandling. I am not that familiar with statistics, but it is hard to get 60% of people in a democratic society to agree on much of anything. Sixty-percent constitutes a whopping majority. Yet the problem persists in Tampa.

Panhandlers complain that if they are banned, they will have no other way to earn a living. By allowing rampant panhandling in Tampa, they have created a whole group of individuals now dependent upon panhandling as a means to earn a living. Take away panhandling and panhandlers claim they will have no other recourse, but to resort to crime. So I guess panhandling is just a form of extortion: "Give me money, or I will rob your home."

Lets face it: The economy sucks. A lot of people are experiencing hard times, but is passing out money to individuals on street corners REALLY the best way to deal with the problem?

Back to the reason we were in Tampa: My husband and I were searching for an affordable, safe place to live. I would give a "guesstimate" that housing costs in Tampa were roughly $75,000 to a $100,000 higher (In iffy neighborhoods with parking problems) than in the outlying, panhandling-free areas surrounding the city. Guess where we decided to move?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Panhandling in Paradise: Part 1


Over two-hundred panhandlers are estimated to work the Hyde Park area of Tampa. Hyde Park, for those of you unfamiliar with the area, is one of the higher rent districts in Tampa, Florida. My husband and I recently went to Tampa to try to find a moderate home to house our moderate, middle-class lifestyle. We purchased our current moderate, middle-class home smack-dab on top of the so-called "housing bubble" which burst about six months after our purchase.  Not to fear, we were assured that in the current market housing bargains were plentiful.  Certainly, there would be no problem recouping what we stood to lose on our current "investment".

After spending months researching the market on sites like "Trulia", I felt I had an educated grasp on what the housing market held in store. Since we would probably take a beating when we went sell our current abode, we were looking for a deal. Too bad the wait on these "deals" -- short sales and foreclosures -- was at least six months and frequently included the terms:  "Cash Only".   I don't know who has that kind of money laying around in this economy (besides investors) but it pretty much excludes your average home buyer who requires some sort of financing. It didn't take long for me to figure-out that all those super-low prices advertised on the Internet are a bunch of crap. Still, the housing market has been hit hard so certainly we should be able to find a house that was enough of a deal for us to break even. Hasn't everyone been hit in this downward market spiral?

So we started looking at the classic vintage homes we found in a "revitalized" area of Tampa. This revitalization included exactly four homes in the middle of what can only be described as an absolute ghetto. To make matter worse, I couldn't help but notice that on EVERY street corner on EVERY main thoroughfare in the city of Tampa was occupied by panhandler after panhandler begging for money. I used to think "There but for the grace of God go I...", but not this time. This time all I could think about was trying to run this gauntlet of seedy humanity every time I went to the store after dark to pick-up a quart of milk or a loaf of bread. Who wants to live this way? 

I am not insensitive to the plight of poverty, but panhandling in Tampa has reached an entirely different level. These panhandlers came prepared for the Florida heat with ice chests full of water. They weren't people who were just having a hard time, they were people for whom panhandling had apparently become enough of a lifestyle that they had the wherewithal to take some of that spare change and invest in reflective vests.  The really creepy part is that they were ALL wearing the same style reflective vest.  Merely pondering the legal issues involved in allowing people to routinely stand on the median and beg for money in the middle of rush hour traffic made my inner-attorney's head spin.  Holy crap!  What were the chances of hitting one of these people?  Suddenly I was feeling eerily middle-aged and somewhat Republican. (To be continued...)