NAPLES, Fla. — Collier County leaders say they’ve noticed a rise in people on the side of the roads asking for money. In response, they’ve passed new rules to try to keep those panhandlers safe.
Last week county commissioners passed what they called a pedestrian safety ordinance. The new rules are aimed at keeping people out of intersections and away from traffic.
However, the commissioners did *not* ban panhandling completely. They say legally they can’t.
“My office and I’m sure all the commissioners have gotten increased reports of folks that are in the roadway asking for money,” commissioner Penny Taylor said. “That’s a dangerous place to be. Very dangerous.”
The Collier County commissioners voted unanimously to institute a pedestrian safety ordinance at their most recent meeting.
The new rules don’t outlaw panhandling, but they limit how pedestrians can approach cars. That includes making it illegal to stand in medians.
Commissioners say the new rules are needed Collier County, where 521 pedestrians have been involved in auto accidents the past four years, and 21 of them have died.
“We’re not saying not to do it. We can’t legally,” Taylor said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Be safe, and this is how you’re going to be safe.”
St. Matthew’s House, the homeless shelter in Naples, also wants to keep them safe. Officials at St. Matthew’s say they’ve seen a sharp rise in demand for their services.
“Our wait list has typically been between 40 to 60 individuals and families at any given time,” said Ray Steadman, vice president of programs at St. Matthew’s. “Currently our wait list is over 100 individuals and families. 20 of that 100 make up mothers with children.”
That ever-expanding wait list is a symptom of the population boom Collier County has seen in recent years.
“It’s a function of just our growth,” Taylor said. “It’s happened in every major city for as long as I remember. But we are one of those major communities now, and I think that’s why.”
While St. Matthew’s doesn’t have a stance on the new pedestrian safety ordinance, Ray Steadman said the shelter is here to help anyone affected by the new laws.
“For those individuals who may not have opportunity to panhandle for cash going forward, they can certainly come to our facility, our feeding ministry, and we’ll serve them a hot meal to at least take care that most basic need,” Steadman said.
Commissioners say these new pedestrian safety rules will be enforced by the sheriff’s office beginning immediately.