Jacksonville ordinance banning panhandling challenged in federal lawsuit
Homeless assistance group files federal lawsuit to stop Jacksonville's ban on panhandling on streets.

homeless veterans (Large)
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction from the federal court based on First Amendment grounds.

Jacksonville’s law against panhandling at public intersections is being challenged in federal court.

The ban on panhandling was approved by the Jacksonville City Council last year. But as the Florida Times-Union reported, a nonprofit organization representing the homeless filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 26 claiming the measure violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The ordinance is an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment on its face and as applied to plaintiff,” stated the 26-page legal brief filed in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville City Council pushed for the ordinance for about a year before it was finally approved, as Florida Politics reported in 2022. A growing number of homeless people were perceived to be getting more aggressive in asking for handouts on Jacksonville streets.

“I’ve had a lot of folks who have come to me concerned about people coming up and pulling on door handles at intersections asking for money,” said then council member Al Ferraro, noting that children are being enlisted in panhandling.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the COSAC Foundation Inc., a homeless assistance organization based in South Florida that also operates The Homeless Voice, a publication addressing issues facing homeless people. COSAC seeks donations for homeless assistance in Jacksonville and distributes what it calls a newspaper in The Homeless Voice.

The Jacksonville panhandling ordinance modified traffic regulations that essentially eliminates interaction between panhandlers and any occupant of a motor vehicle mainly at intersections. People who violate the measure can be subject to a $100 fine and possibly up to 10 days in jail.

Despite the threat of penalties, there are provisions for exceptions. But those are contingent on permits that need to be obtained and the lawsuit claims the process for getting an exemption are too cumbersome.

“Although the ordinance allows people to seek a permit to engage in these activities, the permitting scheme is largely illusory,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also states COSAC is “hindered” in their efforts to raise funds for those people who need it most. COSAC “faces a continuing threat of citation and arrest for its solicitation activities.”

The lawsuit is seeking an injunction from the federal court to halt enforcement of the ordinance. The legal filing claims COSAC cannot solicit donations to help the homeless nor can the foundation give people its newspaper in Jacksonville. The organization usually seeks donations and distributes its publication at intersections on the streets of Jacksonville and workers claim they are still threatened with arrest despite wearing brightly colored safety shirts and vests.

Jacksonville officials argued the ordinance was enacted to protect people from injury more than anything else and they worried not only homeless panhandlers could get hurt on the roadways, but others, such as firefighters raising funds for charitable causes for instance, could equally be in danger at busy intersections.

The office of Jacksonville General Counsel had raised concerns about First Amendment issues before the City Council approved the ordinance.


A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Drew Dixon

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at [email protected].


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  • Sean Cononie

    March 7, 2024 at 7:06 am

    I am Sean Cononie founder of the Homeless Voice. Not only does COSAC/HOMELESS VOICE help the homeless we also started the first Mass Shooting Prevention Hotline paid for by the Homeless Voice. People who are planning a mass shooting can call for help , research shows that they also want to die and if 988 works then this should. They plan for two months. The work we do if important. call 605-NO-SHOOT

Comments are closed.


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