Thursday night wrapped up the last of two meetings between the public, the City Manager, and the City Police Chief regarding the vagrant "problem" in downtown St. Augustine.
Some suggestions seemed a bit extreme, with people offering up everything from designating vagrants as potential terrorists, to putting meter maids at public benches and setting a time limit for people to occupy them. Other suggestions included a community patrol, as well as moving the zero tolerance camping policy time to 8pm instead of 10pm.
A concern was also raised that some panhandlers now linger around pay-to-park stations in the evening, asking people, 'Since you don't have to pay to park, can you spare a dollar?' Officials at the meeting did point out that under a new ordinance, people will not be able to panhandle in the vicinity of pay stations.
Interestingly enough, a recent local study showed that only 11% of vagrants are actually from St. Augustine, although Chief Fox admitted, 'People who were polled may not have always been 100% honest in all of their answers.'
Social media has played a key role in alerting officials of issues that people have with panhandlers and others in the plaza and the downtown area in general. Chief Fox said he is well aware of the St. Augustine Vagrant Watch Group on Facebook, and that many of its members provide helpful tips to authorities. Chief Fox assured those in attendance that there were more undercover officers and that arrests were up, but that a community effort and a change in some policies will be necessary to make a real impact regarding the issue.