Yes. You read the title correctly.
Candidates vying for the office of Mayor in St. Petersburg, as part of their campaign promises, are telling potential voters that they will violate the First Amendment protected rights of certain citizens: specifically those of homeless persons who panhandle.
Deveron Gibbons, one mayoral hopefully, received a rousing round of applause last month when he promised to "crack down on panhandling" and told supporters:
"As mayor, I can guarantee you we won’t have that issue. I am not going to have anybody who doesn’t pay taxes more comfortable in our community than people who do pay taxes."
Obviously, Mr. Gibbons doesn’t have a clear grasp of reality if he believes that a homeless person in St. Petersburg is living more comfortably than a non-homeless person.
As for his "guarantee" that panhandling will no longer be an issue if he’s elected: dream on Mr. Gibbons.
Local unemployment is roughly 11 percent. And, homelessness in Pinellas County has risen 83 percent since 2007.
My advice to Mr. Gibbons: if you really want to reduce panhandling in your area, then stop the foolish political rhetoric and focus on finding a way to get people back to work and the homeless back into housing.
Unfortunately, the rest of St. Petersburg’s candidates are spouting nonsense similar to Mr. Gibbons and the public seems to be "eating it up" with great relish.
Only one candidate – retired attorney Ed Helm – is opposed to trying to strengthen the ban panhandling in St. Petersburg.
According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, Mr. Helm’s approach to homelessness would be to,
"… copy a program in Daytona Beach [Florida] that provides homeless participants with jobs and housing in exchange for cleaning up city roads. He would also attempt to create more living wage jobs by working with small business owners and eco-tourism operators."
Sad to say, but I’m willing to wager that Mr. Helm – even though his approach makes the most sense, both morally and fiscally – will probably not be elected.
Regardless of your personal opinion regarding panhandling – like it or not – the reality is that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that non-aggressive panhandling is protected under the "free speech" clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
That’s just the bottom line.
Creating and adopting ordinances which attempt to limit or completely prohibit panhandling – or any of the other activities which the homeless are forced to do, such as sleeping in public – violates a persons Constitutionally protected rights. And, while they may lesson the visibility of homelessness – do nothing to actually reduce the numbers of homeless. In fact, these types of legislation only hamper a community from assisting the homeless out of homelessness and end up costing taxpayers more in the long run.
If it is indeed true that a society gets a government that they deserve, then I feel extremely sorry for the citizens of St. Petersburg.
By inference – with regards to their political stance on homelessness – what St. Petersburg’s mayoral candidates are saying is that they lack moral and social sensitivity. And, as a result, rather than work for the betterment of their community by finding genuine solutions for helping the homeless move toward self-sufficiency, they will punish the homeless instead.
As a result – excepting Mr. Helm – the rest of St. Petersburg’s mayoral candidates are hereby presented the SLO Homeless Stuck On Stupid Award.