Ordinances, Rescue Mission Changes Helping with Vagrancy Problem - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Ordinances, Rescue Mission Changes Helping with Vagrancy Problem

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Vagrancy. It has been a huge issue for the city of Panama City. In fact many in office for the city have campaigned on this very topic. So is it still an issue or not?

For Jane Lindsey vagrancy had become a common thread in the downtown fabric.

"It got to where we had vagrants sitting in the benches and not leaving and panhandling our customers," said Lindsey. "It was very upsetting we were just not happy at all."

That issue lead to a push by the city to add enforcement on the streets.

"Well we put in place a chronic nuisance ordinance," said Panama City Commissioner John Kady. "I think that really had the largest effect and that had to do with the number of police calls that could be made to a business before it was made a chronic nuisance."

Since then Antique Emporium has said a lot has been going strong for the downtown and vagrancy is not one them.

"I have made police calls in the past, but not lately no," said Lindsey. "I have to say in the last probably year and a half things have turned around quite a bit and we do not have the issues that we had."

Commissioner John Kady says the success is in large part by a two pronged effort by the city, by looking to move the mission and add the ordinances.

"From the anecdotal evidence from just looking downtown and seeing less traffic with vagrants and less encounters and complaints by merchants--the merchants certainly say its been improved," said Kady.

But Commissioner Kady does not understate the contribution of the rescue mission as a part of the city's efforts.

"They have kind of re-branded themselves and focused on the truly needy and that's probably had the largest effect on what was going on," said Kady.

The mission has closed their day center and changed their focus back from habitual vagrants to the truly needy. Reverend Billy Fox says the city had original approached the Mission years ago about helping with the vagrant population. That job got to be too much for the mission as they fell under scrutiny for much of the unintended consequences that responsible brought with it.

Since making changes Fox says they were able to accomplish more and improve their relationship with the downtown.  

"Now, we feel like we are just much more accomplished at what we are doing and the staff feels better about what they are doing," said Reverend Billy Fox. "You know we want our citizens to feel safe down here and I think more of them do," said Lindsey.  

"We still have a ways to go," said Kady. "We still have some issues and we will continue to deal with and fine tune some things.

"I hope we can still work as partners with the rescue mission in solving the problem."

Commissioner Kady has also approached the Panama City Police Department about doing a follow up study on the vagrancy population following their report from last year.