• Downtown Orlando restaurant owners say panhandling out of control


    ORLANDO, Fla. - Many restaurant owners said the homeless issue in downtown Orlando is getting out of control. They said panhandlers are walking into the restaurants, going up to customers who are eating at tables and asking for money.

    "It's real rough. It's a day-to-day struggle," said Steven Markis, who is homeless. "I lost my good job over in Brevard County."

    Some business owners said there is a bigger problem that goes beyond the faces on the streets.

    "We have seen an influx that are coming in. They try to get money from customers," downtown bar manager Kate Bellamy said.

    "They come into the gate and say, 'Do you have a dollar?' It is tough situation. You feel bad, but it's like, 'Leave guests alone,'" said Ember bar owner Dirk Farrow.

    Bellamy said that some customers who have been approached by panhandlers inside the restaurants get scared, nervous and uncomfortable.

    The city has laws that restrict panhandling to designated zones, but if they are soliciting elsewhere, that is illegal.

    "Panhandling is a crime. It needs to be enforced. What's going to happen is they'll get thrown in jail and get a dry place with food.  They really don't care much," said Farrow.

    Coalition for Homeless of Central Florida president Brent Trotter said, "There are a lot of concerns that we just don't have a lot of control over."

    The Coalition for Homeless of Central Florida said their facilities are full and they can only help those who want to be helped.

    "We are involved 365 days a year working to address folks experiencing crisis," Trotter said.

    Some business owners have suggestions.

    "I think as a city, come together and help people that are sick to help them and not throw them on the street," Bellamy said.

    WFTV contactd several city officials concerning the issue, as well the Orlando Police Department, and have not heard back yet.

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    Downtown Orlando restaurant owners say panhandling out of control