The Orlando city government has given its approval to a project that will revolve about an ambassador program that will address downtown issues, including panhandlers whose presence has become a bane to local businesses and to the tourists who visit the most visited destination in the United States.
The measure approved by the city government establishes a contract with Block by Block, a Louisville, Kentucky-based organization that operates programs in more than 100 locations in the U.S. and calls for “downtown ambassador services” for an initial term of two years in an annual estimated amount of $725,000. The scope of work provides for ambassadors to circulate throughout the city’s Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CDR) according to a schedule that will be set by CRA staff providing safety, hospitality, and other ambassador related services as outlined in the scope of work. The deployment schedule can be adjusted to accommodate special events, holidays, inclement weather and other circumstances. The CRA staff will have daily interaction with an on-site operations manager provided by Block by Block, which oversees the entire Ambassador Program.
Several downtown business owners have been asking for something to be done about panhandling for months. “The only problem we had was the panhandlers, and the homeless situation,” said Jay Manji, a 7-Eleven owner in the 55 West Building, told Channel 13 news, adding, “We are open 24/7, so we have seen it all.”
Manji has owned his business downtown for eight years now. He said he is worried for his employees and customers, because he said the panhandling is overly aggressive these days. “This customer was disorderly,” he said, pointing to a yellow carbon copy of an Orlando police record. “They had to be trespassed. And I have hundreds of these, really in just here in the last six months.”
Monica McCown, from the nearby Artisan’s Table understands, agreed: “I think the biggest effect on our business is that it makes our guests that come to visit us feel a little less comfortable when they are walking the streets,” she said. “But they also harass my guests when they are actually at the restaurant on our patio, and I have even had staff assaulted.”
Another perspective came from Andrew Gooden, a self-identified homeless person, who said that all of the places he has been in the U.S. had ambassador services, adding, “if a homeless person goes to them and says, ‘I just got here, I don’t know my way around,’ they’ve got information, pamphlets … They helped me when I first got to one city. They gave me the information, and not only did I get off the street, I got housing, thanks to that one ambassador.”
“Much like Disney and Universal have their greeters and their information people, and they have a face to show when you go to CityWalk, or Disney Springs, I think downtown Orlando should be treated the same way,” said McCown.