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Merchants launch new anti-panhandling campaign

For the second time in two years, Ron Soto is leading an initiative to discourage panhandling in downtown Sarasota.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. June 9, 2016
Ron Soto is helping to lead an initiative to discourage panhandling in downtown Sarasota.
Ron Soto is helping to lead an initiative to discourage panhandling in downtown Sarasota.
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At the end of a meal at some downtown restaurants, you might receive more than just a bill. Businesses such as Patrick’s 1481, Louies Modern and Mattison’s City Grille are distributing cards with a stark warning: “Your kindness could kill.”

The messages are part of an anti-panhandling campaign spearheaded by Ron Soto and the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association. In addition to the cards, downtown businesses are also putting up posters in storefronts as part of the Your Kindness Could Kill initiative, hoping their message will spread.

Soto, president of the merchants group, helped launch the 2014 “Downtown Cares” campaign that placed anti-panhandling signs and donation boxes throughout the heart of the city. He said the new campaign is designed to reach well-intentioned downtown visitors, highlighting the risks of panhandling.

The signs direct visitors to, a site that lists nearly 40 homelessness service providers in the region.

“The message is still the same,” Soto said. “Please, don’t give money out on the street.”

“The message is still the same: Please, don’t give money out on the street.” — Ron Soto

He acknowledges the previous campaign — built around a statistic that stated 93% of cash given on the street is spent on drugs, alcohol or other illicit activity — wasn’t universally embraced. It became the subject of a procedural battle at City Hall, as opposition from Florida ACLU Vice President Michael Barfield led to the revision of the city’s regulations on sidewalk signs.

So far, Soto says he hasn’t heard any negative feedback about the new campaign. Soto, also a member of the city’s Downtown Improvement District, got an enthusiastic response when he outlined the program to the group’s board of directors in May.

As city and county officials continue to discuss the best way to address the homelessness problem in Sarasota, Soto believes merchants can help educate the public about the pitfalls of panhandling. He wants to expand the program beyond downtown, reaching out to businesses in Southside Village, St. Armands Circle, Siesta Key Village and other areas with heavy foot traffic.

Soto said the Downtown Cares program generated about $150 per month for service providers through the donation boxes, but money isn’t the primary concern.

“The message is the most important thing,” Soto said. “They’re less concerned with donations and more concerned about getting the message out.”


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