Amendment to Lee County’s right-of-way ordinance bans panhandling

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News

Lee County commissioners on Tuesday approved an ordinance amendment that prohibits pedestrians from standing on medians and interacting with those in vehicles.

Violators face a misdemeanor charge that carries a fine of $500 or less and/or 60 days in jail. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will educate and raise awareness of the ordinance before actual enforcement.

Commissioners said the change is for the safety and protection of pedestrians, including panhandlers who frequently stand in medians on busy roadways to collect money, and drivers who get distracted by those standing in medians or at intersections.

Maverick, a veteran, and Gracie survive thanks to the kindness of strangers passing by on a busy Lee County road.

“I usually stand out there for like an hour,” Gracie said. “It’s kind of nice because I like to smile and stuff, but if nobody gives me money, I feel sad.”

Maverick will have to give up his prime location and move to the sidewalk, where commissioners and law enforcement said he – and the drivers he depends on – will be safer.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, when you’re standing in that roadway, you run the risk of being hit by a car,” said Sheriff Carmine Marceno.

Some people who attended Tuesday’s commission meeting said panhandlers and the homeless, the people who need help the most, will be hit the hardest.

“A criminal justice approach to people asking for help is cruel and counterproductive,” said Kat Duesterhause.

Marceno said the ordinance applies equally to everyone, including firefighters and their “Fill the Boot” drives and any organization that asks drivers for help.

“We’re looking at the entire county. I mean anywhere that this ordinance fits, and it doesn’t matter who it is,” Marceno said.

What prompted commissioners to pass this ordinance now? The fact that Lee County continues to be among the deadliest places for pedestrians in the country. Lee County was recently ranked as the 11th most dangerous place for pedestrians in the country, with 22 dying in 2020.

WINK News reached out to local fire departments about the impact to their fundraising efforts and they said they’ll find another – safer – way to raise money.

Read the full ordinance and its amendment below or by clicking here.

The ordinance will be filed with the Florida secretary of state within days and will become law.

The county said that people who are in the right-of-way because they are collecting money for food or basic necessities should call the Lee County Homeless Coalition Coordinated Entry System at 239-533-7996 to connect to available services.

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