ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - St. Augustine is seeing a increase in panhandling. It's front and center on the busiest tourist streets in the small city.
Merchants say it's impacting their business as well as the city's reputation.
Richard Pinto has Sunburst Crystal on St. George Street in St. Augustine.
He opened his first store in St. Augustine in 1980.
Recently, he and most people in St. Augustine have seen more panhandlers and homeless.
"I think there's been a big uptick in the last month, month in a half," he said.
Homeless people who are asking for money, are lined up along St. George Street, taking up many of the benches or just sleeping on the ground. This is the busiest tourist area in the city.
Pinto is calm about the issue and believes the city will figure a way to resolve the issue.
"Usually, the people on St. George Street and surrounding few blocks are not aggressive or nasty," he noted.
However, many other merchants say the explosion of panhandling is hurting the city's number one industry -- tourism.
First Coast News' spoke with Danny, a homeless panhandler on St. George Street.
"The hurricane come through and messed me up and I'm just now getting my license and everything back together so I can start looking for work again," he said.
Many panhandlers are from elsewhere. Danny says he came from Gainesville because his wife was here.
"We're traveling along looking for work," he explained.
City Manager John Regan says panhandling has increased because people are displaced by hurricanes and because the hurricane affected service providers, such as the homeless shelter St. Francis House.
Regan says St. Francis House "is operating at a third its capacity."
And he says legally, the courts have "ruled against cities from being able to enforce panhandling."
Regan plans to unveil a plan next week to reduce panhandling and get the homeless the help they need.
It will include reworking the city's panhandling law, discouraging people from giving to panhandlers, and educating homeless about outreach programs.
As for Pinto, he says, "I hope we can come up with some way of helping people so we all can come out ahead."
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