Harrison County

Biloxi to stop issuing licenses for panhandlers. It sent the wrong message, attorney says

Business owners want help with homeless in Biloxi

Groups of homeless or panhandlers have moved into downtown Biloxi since hurricanes in Texas and Florida, business owners say
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Groups of homeless or panhandlers have moved into downtown Biloxi since hurricanes in Texas and Florida, business owners say

Issuing licenses to panhandle may be sending the wrong message, city attorney Peter Abide suggested to the Biloxi Council, who voted Tuesday to discontinue the licenses and put in place distance requirements and other regulations.

When the city began requiring licenses in November 2017 to try to get a handle on aggressive panhandling, some people who didn’t want to be registered left the area, Abide said.

But it also had drawbacks, he said, and certain people are treating it as a business.

“It maybe is giving the false impression that we are welcoming people to panhandle and other cities may be sending people here to come get a license. That was never the intention,” he said. “We still have our aggressive panhandling laws in place.”

“We’ve overhauled and streamlined our regulations. Those cities that have outlawed panhandling may be under scrutiny now by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union),” he said.

Under the new regulations, panhandling in Biloxi won’t be allowed:

  • Near an intersection or interstate entrance or exit
  • At a bus, streetcar or train stop
  • In public transportation
  • 20 feet from a bank or ATM machine
  • 8 feet from an occupied vehicle on the street
  • 3 feet from a person unless they have agreed to make a donation
  • In public parks
  • From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • When a sign has been posted on business or residence saying “no panhandling or soliciting,” or similar
  • When a person is waiting in line to enter a business or walks away

“I think this will take us in a more positive direction,” said Biloxi Police Chief John Miller. His department has a team of people who spend their entire day dealing with panhandlers and the homeless, he said.

The new regulations don’t apply to those selling fresh produce door-to-door or to those delivering products to customers on a route.

In May 2017, Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich asked the council to lease the former Beauvoir Elementary School for a processing center and temporary shelter for homeless people and families, including veterans. It never happened after neighbors objected.

Councilman Paul Tisdale said he still dreams of Biloxi establishing that assessment and transition center and said, “I know we’re moving in that direction.”

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