Monday, March 14, 2011

From the desk of Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven L. Abrams:

Panhandling, a controversial topic, remains an ongoing issue on roadway medians countywide.  Over the years, there has been a high level of complaints and public safety issues and the Board of County Commissioners has been unable to adopt an ordinance due to conflicts as the First Amendment. 
For example, any regulation passed must be applied equally to all individuals including groups using the county’s medians and roads to distribute materials or solicit funds.  Firefighters collecting for a charity could be well received, whereas an individual who appears homeless may not.  Any distinction would be prohibited by the courts. 
Another major problem in combating panhandling is enforcement and public safety.  A deputy has to witness the violation in order to make an arrest, and if an arrest is made the individual is held for a day and then released.  Statistics have shown a 29% increase in traffic crashes at intersections identified as most active for panhandlers. 
So what can be done?  The county, in partnership with the Sheriff’s office, recently introduced a new campaign that includes an educational program using media, signage, volunteers and the internet.  
Also, another important aspect of the initiative includes community outreach to the panhandlers by providing them with viable options to get the help they require.  For example, deputies and volunteers actively hand out information advising them on where they can find food, shelter and other essential services.
Even though it is with the best intentions to give money to a panhandler, more often than not it is used to buy illegal drugs and alcohol.   There is also a large contingency of individuals panhandling who are falsely identifying themselves as veterans, which is punishable by law.  So please know that it is ok to say “no” to panhandling. 
For more information on this matter, volunteer or make a donation, please visit  
Please contact me if I can be of assistance or if you have any comments and/or suggestions.  I can be contacted or at my office at 561-355-2204 (West Palm Beach) or 561-276-1220 (Delray Beach).  Please visit my Web site at for updates and links to county divisions and other governmental agencies.