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Vero puts up signs in bid to put a damper on panhandling

Photo: City officials erected signs last week due to residents' complaints about the increase in panhandling at some of Vero Beach's busiest intersections.

Responding to residents' complaints about the increase in panhandling at some of Vero Beach's busiest intersections, city officials last week erected signs it hopes will discourage motorists from giving roadside handouts.

The signs read: "DUE TO PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS, PANHANDLING IS DISCOURAGED" in red lettering, with "Please Donate To Local Charitable Organizations" underneath in smaller black letters.

The signs were installed at four locations where panhandlers have been most visible: State Road 60 eastbound at U.S. 1; U.S. 1 southbound at 17th Street (near Walgreen's); 17th Street westbound at U.S. 1 (near CVS); and 17th Street eastbound at U.S. 1 (near the Chevron station).

City Manager Jim O'Connor said he approved posting the signs after consulting with City Attorney Wayne Coment and Police Chief David Currey on the wording.

"Panhandling is not illegal, so we had to be careful with the wording," O'Connor said. "Wayne and I looked at what they were doing to address the problem in other cities across Florida, and there was a wide array of signage.

"We decided to focus on the safety issue," he added. "We want people to help, but to do it in a different way."

According to Currey, Vero Beach police has received nearly 300 calls over the past year – from January 2017 to January 2018 – from people complaining about panhandling on the city's streets. His department also received more than 700 calls alerting police to "homeless individuals on the corner."

He said many of the "homeless" calls probably involved the same people referred to in the panhandling calls.

"These signs are just a way to get the message out, and we hope they deter people," Currey said, "because we want to keep our streets and intersections safe."

O'Connor said he opted for the signs after a recent City Council meeting at which members said they had received an increasing number of complaints about panhandling on local street corners.

But he's not sure how effective the signs will be.

"When I went by one of those intersections last week, there was a guy standing under the sign," O'Connor said. "We're not going to discourage the panhandlers, but the signs weren't designed for them. They're designed to discourage the motorists."

O'Connor said there was "no real cost" to erect the signs because the materials were already in stock.

"Maybe a couple of hundred dollars," he said.