Delray Beach: City grapples with panhandling and trolley-riding homeless

By Tim Pallesen

    A majority of city commissioners wants to charge a dollar for trolley rides to discourage the homeless from riding free to a soup kitchen. 

    To stop the homeless from begging for money, commissioners also want a tough new ordinance to prohibit panhandling.

    “We have beautiful trolleys that are supposed to bring individuals to our city to spend money — not to give free rides to the homeless so they can go to a soup kitchen,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said. 

    Frankel joined Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura to say  during an April 8 workshop they will support trolley fares.

    Volunteers at the largest Delray soup kitchen serving the homeless were stunned by Frankel’s comment to a TV reporter after the meeting.

    “To single out such a vulnerable population and deny them services is appalling,” Caring Kitchen director April Hazamy said. “I am shocked that the city wants to make the homeless situation worse.”

    Trolley fares and the crackdown on panhandlers were recommended by a police-led task force that studied the impacts of the city’s homeless population. The proposed panhandling ban duplicates a Fort Lauderdale ordinance designed so people can be free from fear of intimidation in public places.

    Nonaggressive panhandling would be prohibited in places where the public is likely to feel threatened, such as within 15 feet of sidewalk cafes on Atlantic Avenue.

    Aggressive panhandling would be banned everywhere the city. Panhandlers who sit and hold a sign would not be considered a threat, the task force said. 

    The task force recommended trolley fares because “free transportation may have the unintended effect of enabling the homeless population,” according to its report to commissioners. The group suggested that residents and employees in the city be given annual trolley passes at a reduced rate.

    Only Commissioner Al Jacquet questioned trolley fares at the April 8 workshop. “I have a problem that the purpose of this is to get rid of the homeless,” he said.

    “The homeless are people, too,” said Ruth Magaria, executive director of Christians Reaching Out to Society Ministries, which operates the Caring Kitchen at 196 NW Eighth Ave. “We need to figure out a way that they can get to a place to eat.”

    The task force also urged the city to work with the Caring Kitchen and other soup kitchens near downtown to prevent takeout food containers from being discarded at the city library, beach and private yards.

    Police believe much of Delray’s homeless problem can be attributed to recovering drug addicts who become homeless when they relapse and get kicked out of Delray’s many sober houses.

    Police say more than half the city’s property crimes are by people here for recovery. The task force is studying performance standards for drug treatment centers to reduce the number of relapses and crime.

    “Relapses and desperate people are a problem for the community,” said task force member Marc Woods, a retired police officer who monitors sober houses for the city. 

    Caring Kitchen administrators say most of Delray’s homeless are not addicted to drugs or alcohol.

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