Delray Beach Police take new approach to panhandlers

New mission is education not enforcement

DELRAY BEACH - Police in Delray Beach are taking a fresh approach to dealing with the homeless population. 

Instead of arresting panhandlers, officers are educating them. They're passing out flyers which have information about different groups which help the homeless.

The police department said it received a steady number of complaints about panhandlers being very aggressive along Atlantic Avenue from I-95 to the beach. So the city beefed up its panhandling laws this year.

Combine the changes with this new flyer and police are hopeful it will make a difference.

"I say I'm downtown about five days a week," Alan Kosten said.

Starbuck's is his favorite spot. Although he admitted he hasn't been approached by many homeless people, police officers say panhandlers flock to the sidewalk cafes.

"There's no reason for you to come down to the city of Delray Beach and be harassed by the homeless people," explained Sgt. Jason Jabcuga. "So now we're reaching out to them and we're explaining this to them."

Starting this week officers are giving homeless people information instead of arresting them on their first offense.

It's an outreach initiative CROS Ministries suggested when the city changed its panhandling ordinance this year.

"It's not to single out people and remove people from the society, but to help them to be brought into society and be assisted.," April Hazamy with CROS Ministries explained.

Warren Brown is homeless. Has been for more than one year. He says police have the right idea, but he says it won't solve the issue.

Hazamy says Palm Beach County only has one shelter for the homeless and Brown says often times there are no beds available.

"So you're back at square one, you got a full belly, but you're still sleeping on the street," Brown explained.

Police know they can't force people to use the services listed on the card, but they're optimistic it will make a visible difference for downtown visitors.

"It certainly can't hurt, it can't hurt at all," Kosten pointed out. 

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