After confrontation, Bradenton man wants to curb 'belligerent' panhandlers

The Bradenton man who made headlines earlier this month after a panhandler refused his offer for work wants Manatee County Commissioners to review its current panhandling restrictions, and make them tougher. 

People in the community have joined Ryan Bray, calling the panhandling problem in Manatee County a "crisis." 

They also say they do not have animosity against the county's homeless population. They want law enforcement to crack down on people begging in the middle of the streets and "harassing" people for cash.

Last week, Bray made a sign and stood on the corner where he says the panhandler refused his offer for work.

I offered him $15/hour to do yard work for me and he refused. If we as a community stop paying them, then they will leave the community!" the sign read.

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Bray says it wasn't just the refusal that rubbed him the wrong way; it was the man's aggression after the fact that moved him to make the sign.

Bray spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday's commission meeting to offer a legal solution to the county's "panhandling problem."

"It's the belligerent activity that occurs when you don't give them money. That's the biggest problem," Bray told FOX 13. "I'm asking for them to set up an ordinance or some sort of action, where you cannot stand within 120 feet of a signaled intersection." 

"They are now at gas stations parking lots and standing too close for comfort, passing the medians to our cars," a woman told commissioners Tuesday.

At Turning Points, an organization that advocates and provides help for the homeless population, Adell Erozer says the majority of panhandlers are just actors.

"Actually, it's not a homeless issue. These are organized people who are out to do panhandling and it has absolutely nothing to do with homelessness," she said.

County leaders listened and agreed more needs to be done to help those who are truly in need, but those who attended the meeting and say they are bombarded every day say they are tired of being "held hostage."

"All of us are being forced into a heightened level of fear," one person commented.

County leaders say it is tough to come up with new laws. In 2017, a federal appeals court said panhandling bans violated free speech, and are therefore unconstitutional.

Bradenton amended its ordinance one year after the court decision, and it is currently illegal to solicit on medians or impede traffic. 

Commissioners say they plan to have a work session on and continue the conversation. In the short-term, they say law enforcement can step up patrols and enforce traffic laws, like not standing in the roadway.