Plan to Jail Homeless Helpers Scrapped in Oakland Park

City ordinance would have cracked down on giving to panhandlers

The saying "no good deed goes unpunished" nearly became a reality in Oakland Park, where a controversial ordinance that would have jailed charitable do-gooders for giving panhandlers handouts was rejected Wednesday night.

The City Commission, which had temporarily approved the plan in March, reversed course last night after activists made quite a stink over it, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

The ordinance would have made it illegal to give street dwellers money or other items or buy certain items from them, and would have also made it illegal for "beggars, panhandlers or solicitors" to sell anything on public streets because it "distracts drivers from their primary duty to watch traffic and potential hazards in the road."

Violators would have faced up to 90 days behind bars or fines.

Homeless advocates voiced their displeasure at the ordinance they claimed would be "inhuman."

"I understand this is framed as a traffic problem," said Laura Hansen, CEO of the Coalition to End Homelessness, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "This is a human problem. Do you really want to be the city that says if you help the poor we will incarcerate you? I don't think you do."

The lone commissioner who approved the measure Wednesday night, Jed Shank, suggested the ordinance would actually help the homeless.

"Is it right to tell our homeless to go into the street and get money that way to survive?" Shank said. "Passing this ordinance is a positive thing to do. I don't want our homeless in the street trying to solicit money."

Oakland Park would have been the first Broward city to adopt such an ordinance. The measure was drawn up based on one in Gainesville.

Legal Aid attorney Janet Riley objected to the issue with the threat of a lawsuit.

"It's going to be challenged and it's going to cost you money I don't think you have," she told the commission.

Contact Us