by Jeremy Morrison
With the the city of Pensacola considering its latest panhandling-related ordinance, a group of local advocates have created a short documentary aimed at overviewing the subject. The work does not cast a favorable light on the city’s efforts, and the filmmakers are hoping it inspires people to oppose the ordinance.
“I hope we’re stirring enough trouble for them that they’re realizing they can’t sneak it through,” said Ann Hill, who served as researcher and writer on the project.
Pensacola city council members will consider April 13 an ordinance prohibiting panhandling from the downtown commercial core. The measure is on the table due to safety and economic concerns raised by the downtown business community.
Local homeless advocates, as the well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, has come out against the proposed ordinance, arguing it targets homeless people and doesn’t square with the First Amendment. Just as they did the last go round, when the city enacted its so-call aggressive-panhandling ordinance.
“Part of the problem, we thought, was the history,” Hill explained. “It seems like the council changes and people change and then the same thing keeps coming up again. We thought let’s just do an overview and maybe they’ll get it this time — one, it’s illegal, and it’s unfair.”
Hill, a former journalist, teamed with local filmmaker Liz Watkins, who has had her lens trained on the city of Pensacola for years. Together they produced a five-minute documentary which relays the city’s efforts to prohibit panhandling, as well as detailing the issue’s genesis, when officials initially targeted Occupy Pensacola participants camping on the lawn outside City Hall in 2011.
As Hill and Watkins see it, such efforts are due to a desire for a city “full of bright, shiny people.”
“They want it to be a high-end, wealthy city,” Watkins said.
“I think they get a lot of flack from people or businesses that want everything to be neat and perfect,” Hill said, “and society is not neat and perfect.”
Homeless advocate Mike Kimbrel also offered input on the project — “In my opinion, all I did was butcher it” — and Hill’s daughter, Teresa Hill, served as narrator and also produced the documentary’s soundtrack.
The short documentary has been making the rounds since city council tabled any decision on the ordinance last Month. Included just before the credits is the contact information of each council member.
“If people would just sit five minutes and look at this, it might influence them to call their council person and say ‘do not do it,’” said Teresa Hill.
The city council will consider the currently proposed panhandling ordinance — which bans the solicitation of funds downtown, and imposes financial penalties for infractions — during its regular meeting April 13 at 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.