Panhandlers and the job debate

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SARASOTA - With the city of Sarasota's new no soliciting law about to go into effect, many are debating the issue of panhandling.   One side says let them panhandle, while the other side says they should get a job. Even the panhandlers are speaking out.

"I was panhandling before it was legal, you make ends meet," said  Linda Lopez.

But come April 29th, Lopez and other panhandlers will no longer be able to solicit funds along the roadsides and medians in the city of Sarasota.

"They're taking our rights away," added Lopez.

City commissioners voted 4 to 1 Tuesday in favor of the no soliciting law. The move has many panhandlers thinking what's next.

"Any change I get helps me, so I can eat. Sometimes a week goes by and I haven't eaten," said Lopez.

But agencies like MDT Personnel say they have 100's of day labor jobs for those wanting to make some extra money.  And although a representative wouldn't talk on camera they told me they have reached out to panhandlers but with little success. 

A situation that was echoed when we asked Lopez why she doesn't try to get day labor work.  " I don't have ID, someone stole my wallet," she answered.

I also asked Lopez why she doesn't go get an ID. To that she replied, "Being an alcoholic if I had $35, guess what I'm going to be doing? Buying a beer unfortunately."

But Suncoast Workforce officials say they can help those with addictions get back into the workforce and off the streets.

"If they have some barriers to employment, we refer them to local agencies to get assistance.  And when they are ready to come back to us, then we work with them to get employment," said Sally Hill the communications director from Suncoast Workforce. 

That help ranges from workshops on preparing a resume to placing people with employers.  But, Hill says the key, is the person must have the desire to work.

"If somebody is really interested in working there are jobs out there.  The labor market is still tight.  It may not be your dream job or the salary you'd like, but there are jobs out there, " added Hill.

But for Lopez, who lives in a tent, has no car, and no money, those options are almost like reading a fairy tail.  "I wouldn't be an alcoholic if I wasn't out here like this.  Its scary, so I drink to take the edge off.  Panhandling is a very embarrassing thing to do.  I don’t have a choice.  I've done better in my life, I use to work for nursing homes, I have an Associates in science.  I'm just stuck on stupid right now," added Lopez.

In an effort to educate and encourage compliance of the new ordinance, message boards will be used to inform the public. The message board will be placed in heavy traffic areas this week and into the weekend. Today, April 24, 2013, the message board will be placed at US 41 and Gulf Stream Ave.

There are many helpful resources in Sarasota that are willing to reach out and help anyone with issues or problems. We encourage those in need of assistance to seek responsible agencies or call 308-HELP and speak to someone who may be able to help.