Sorry, but this Tampa Bay panhandling story is trash

It’s not illegal to panhandle.

click to enlarge SCREENGRAB VIA FOX 13
Screengrab via FOX 13

Over the last 24 hours, three Tampa Bay television news stations ran almost the exact same, incredibly shitty story about a homeless person who allegedly turned down a $15 an hour job from a frustrated “tax payer” and “business owner” in Bradenton.

“Man confronted by panhandler who rejected offer for work,” wrote WTVT. “Bradenton business owner offers homeless man job paying $15 an hour, when man refuses, tables are turned,” wrote WFLA, and “Bradenton man fed up with aggressive panhandlers, takes to streets to warn other drivers,” wrote WFTS.

In every story, Ryan Bray — who isn’t a “business owner,” he just works for his family’s contracting company, according to WTVT — says he’s tired of seeing the same people, on the same corner, asking for money, and on one particular occasion a homeless man yelled at him and threatened his family. 

“They want money, they don’t want jobs. they don’t want to work,” Bray said to WFLA. “They don’t want food. You can give them food. They don’t take it.”

As all three local stations point out, Bray claims he offered the homeless man $15 an hour to do some yard work at his home, which the man then refused, he says. So Bray proceeded to make a sign that suggests this particular homeless man is a liar and shamed him for three hours on a busy intersection, an act that some stations framed as taking “a stand.” 

"I offered him $15 an hour to do yard work for me and he refused. If we as a community stop paying them, they will leave our neighborhood," read Bray’s poster board. Maybe the man just thought Bray was an asshole? Sadly, we may never know. 

It’s important to note that all of these stories lean heavily on the single testimony of the frustrated “taxpayer,” who may not have been genuine when he offered this man a job. And, most importantly, none of these stories explore whether or not the accused “job denier” is mentally disabled, suffers from a chemical dependency, or literally anything for that matter. 

Actually, the homeless man goes by “Alabama,” but we only know this because just one station, WFTS, even bothered to get his name, let alone point out that he denied even being offered a job in the first place. 

According to a police incident report obtained by the Bradenton Herald, Alabama’s real name is Terry Walker. 

Other stations tried to interview Walker, as well. But as WFLA figured out, he was not happy about three camera crews following him around, especially after Bray held a sign up all afternoon calling him a homeless liar. 

“Get your f—–g camera out of my face, you b—h.  This is not against the law. It’s not against the law. Ask any police you want to ask,” said Walker to a WFLA reporter. 

He’s right. It’s not illegal to panhandle (or deny a job for that matter). Last year Manatee County was forced to revise their panhandling ordinance after a Miami judge ruled that a flat-out ban was unconstitutional. But while Walker's reaction isn’t commendable by any means, it’s hard to not want to tell these stations to fuck off, because at its core, this is what homeless shaming looks like. 

There's really nothing gained from this tale, other than "Area man is mad at homeless man." Ultimately, these stories aren't meant to inform, they're only meant for mocking, gawking, and triggering the same uninformed knee-jerk reaction from angry Facebook commenters; “See, homeless people aren’t really homeless!” 

Ironically, this is one of the biggest problems with dealing with homelessness. You can’t lump everyone into the same pot, and stories like this just cement people's ill-conceived notions that homeless people are cheats. 

If you scroll through the Facebook post for Fox 13 this is pretty much all you see. “My husband, and I wonder why they can stand in 100 degree heat begging for money instead of finding a job!” said one commenter. “We’ve offered jobs to panhandlers before and they turned us down. Makes it much easier to not give handouts,” said another. 

According to recent a study from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Florida currently has an estimated 31,000 homeless people; a little more than 1,100 of those live in Bradenton’s Manatee County. Because homelessness is such a heterogeneous issue, there isn’t just one magic solution to getting homeless people “out of our neighborhood,” as Bray says, especially when reasons can include complicated issues like domestic violence, or a recent discharge from prison or foster care. 

But arguably the worst part of these stories is they all frame Walker as someone who chose homelessness. Homelessness is not a choice. In fact, it is a complete lack of choice, and this myth that people "choose" this life can perpetuate itself into real legislative consequences. According to a recent study from the Urban Institute, people affected by homelessness want stability, and this starts with things like housing laws, not panhandling restrictions. 

Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis' recently signed anti-affordable housing bill, cities can still do a lot to help curb homelessness, like removing residential rezoning restrictions for affordable housing and shelters, addressing diversity in homeless populations, and updating eviction laws so people can stay in their own homes longer when they’ve experienced trauma.   

But I highly doubt homeless shaming will accomplish anything, especially from the local media.

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About The Author

Colin Wolf

Colin Wolf has been working with weekly newspapers since 2007 and has been the Digital Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa since 2019. He is also the Director of Digital Content Strategy for CL's parent company, Euclid Media Group.
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