Sarasota merchants launch controversial campaign to stop panhandling

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Merchants in downtown Sarasota want to stop panhandling. They’re waging a controversial campaign called “Your Kindness Could Kill.”

Ron Soto said he has seen the issue from his downtown optical shop for decades. He’s watched homeless panhandlers begging for money.

Soto feels that money is being wasted. So to thwart it, he’s started this new campaign – one he hopes will spread throughout the county.

homeless campaign

“It’s trying to explain to the people that when you give money on the street, the money you give could go ahead and actually kill those people by buying the drugs, alcohol and stuff,” Soto said.

The signs encourage visitors to give the cash as a tax-deductible gift to a homeless organization.

Cindy Edlund is homeless and thinks this is a good idea. She’s seen many fellow homeless waste those donations.

“They’re not looking for food. If you want food, people are out here, churches that I’ve worked with, they bring you food,” Edlund said.

But other homeless people disagree. One homeless man, who didn’t want to be identified, said he genuinely needs that money. “Even the homeless shelter, they charge you $12 a night to stay there … You gotta get it somewhere,” the man said.

The homeless man said he also uses money people give him to buy food. It helps him feel normal.

“It’s nice to have something out of a store every once in a while. You feel a little better with having a little money in your pocket,” he said.

ACLU Spokesman Michael Barfield said this is essentially a war on the homeless.

“The Supreme Court has said that people have a right to solicit for charitable contributions,” Barfield said. “Politicians do it every day, foundations do it, and the fact that it’s done on the sidewalk by a poor person as opposed to a rich foundation member or a politician shouldn’t matter.”

 

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