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Homeless man forces question: Is Hillsborough County anti-panhandling ordinance working?

in Local Courts by
Richard Butler Jr.

A homeless man arrested at least 7 times since 2011 for panhandling stirs up the question of whether Hillsborough County panhandling ordinances are truly effective.

Hillsborough County increased the limits of its panhandling ordinance to include all public roads in 2011. Previously, it only stretched to county roads. This meant homeless could no longer hold up signs asking for money or goods off roadways anywhere in the county. The goal of the new ordinance was to get people off the roadways, however, homeless could be subjected to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail if caught panhandling.

Richard Butler Jr. is a homeless person who has been arrested several times. Most recently, he was arrested Dec. 8, 2016, for solicitation and distribution on a public road, or panhandling.

Butler wasn’t fined, however. He was in custody for four days. The judge sent him to a pre-intervention program rather than have him serve jail time.

According to Hillsborough County arrest records, a fine has never been given to Butler for panhandling. The reasoning for this may lie in his indigent status. When he filed for criminal indigent status in December, Butler listed his only source of income as food stamps.

In the past, Butler has spent weeks in jail serving time for panhandling. He has been arrested for grand theft, public consumption and trespassing.

Before the 2011 ordinance was enacted, officers would charge panhandlers with trespassing when found near public roads. The law was created with officers in mind as it can be a hassle to determine whether a road is a county road or not.

When Butler was arrested in December, he was sitting on the shoulder near an 1-4 exit ramp at McIntosh Road holding a sign that read, “Homeless. Hungry. God Bless.”

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