Too many panhandlers for Mallory Square
Further restricting where the local homeless population can legally ask strangers for money, city commissioners have voted unanimously to relocate the Mallory Square panhandling zone to a single parking space in an adjacent parking lot.
Although the square footage of the new zone is approximately the same as the current location, adjacent to the Wall Street entrance to the popular tourist destination, it will now require panhandlers to move to a parking space located inside the municipal parking lot next to the El Meson de Pepe restaurant. Mayor Craig Cates also proposed that low, see-through fencing be used to strengthen the separation of panhandlers from cars parking in the lot.
Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh told city commissioners that panhandlers had gradually expanded the Mallory Square zone to spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the low wall next to the entrance that was supposed to contain them.
“There have been reports of litter. There have been reports of harassment. This would be the next best location and still comply with the constitutional safeguards regulating panhandling,” Ramsingh told commissioners.
The other existing panhandling zone located in a vacant lot near the intersection of Caroline and Grinnell streets will remain unchanged.
City commissioners banned panhandling in February 2012 but created two zones where panhandling could take place, in accordance with federal laws stating “passive” panhandling is a constitutional right. However, the majority of the panhandlers have congregated in the Mallory Square zone. Some homeless individuals brought cardboard boxes to sleep in, Ramsingh said, and a porcelain toilet had also been brought into the area, reportedly sporting a roll of toilet paper next to it.
District IV Commissioner Tony Yaniz voted for the Mallory Square zone change this week but said there is a bigger issue involving the growing homeless population in Key West that city officials need to deal with.
“This is a symptom,” he said, referring to the reported harassment of tourists by panhandlers in Mallory Square. “This is not the actual disease. We need to look at the overall problem of homelessness. I also believe we have to make it not too cozy for them. Let’s not feed them anymore.”
The new location for the Mallory Square panhandling zone goes into effect immediately.
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