TAMPA, Fla. (CBS Tampa) — A newspaper publisher is trying to help the homeless after Tampa’s City Council voted to institute a panhandling ban.

The new law, which went into effect today, restricts the homeless from holding signs and asking for hand-outs on all days except Sundays.

Bill Sharpe, publisher of the South Tampa Community News, is now attempting to keep legal sources of income available for the homeless relying upon street corner contributions.

That is why he has created the Tampa Epoch, a paper that will be sold by those in need for their own profit. Sharpe will also provide t-shirts and badges to clearly indicate those participating, and will act in accordance with the ban’s specific location restrictions.

On or around Nov. 13, the first issue will be released to the public, and will be printed and sold approximately once a month thereafter.

While the Tampa City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the ban, and members of the community are pleased with its passing, others are not so supportive.

Sharpe falls in the latter category.

“What do you want them to do, just go away?” Sharpe asked, both rhetorically and of the community in an article written several months back. “There has to be a better solution.”

One reader wrote to Sharpe about the Contributor, a street newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., sold by the homeless that focuses on issues concerning the same community it assists and promotes.

Sharpe read about this and other street papers, ultimately deciding that this was how he could help those restricted from earning money through panhandling.

Each copy of the Tampa Epoch will cost a dollar. Homeless vendors will be sponsored through donations for the first 25 papers and then will be able to purchase more to sell for 25 cents.

The caliber of the paper is of great importance to those coordinating the effort, for both sparking initial interest and maintaining loyal clientele.

“We’ve got to put together a quality paper that’s interesting,” he said. “But when you buy a paper, you buy interest in helping someone who needs the help.”

Councilman Mike Suarez told the Tampa Tribune that his intent in banning panhandling was to promote safety and place emphasis that offers long-term homeless care and assistance.

He added that the phrasing of the ban itself makes Sharpe’s initiative legal.

“I didn’t see anyone doing (something along these lines) this quickly,” Suarez said. “This is something we may have to live with.”

The paper, written and produced mostly by volunteers, will feature profiles of both the homeless and those who help them, a directory of services available to assist those in need, and a section that uses creative writings and art to grant outsiders a look at the day-to-day life of the homeless.

“We see such anger … toward the homeless, and I don’t understand it,” Sharpe told CBS Tampa. “I want to talk about who these people are. Mothers, daughters, fathers, uncles … they’re people, they come from everywhere and they have a background.”

Added Sharpe, “I want understanding. I don’t want people to see them as a dirty person standing on a street corner.”

No matter how well the Tampa Epoch initiative fares, Sharpe hopes that the notion of taking action catches on more than anything.

“You can’t just post something on Facebook and solve a problem,” Sharpe said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”


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