Businesses fear the risk to customers and employees from unhealthy vagrants

With Daytona Beach being dubbed the “World’s Most Famous Beach” since the 1920’s, and the business community there deciding that something had to be done to keep from losing that reputation; citizens, merchants and local government came together intent on reducing the eyesore of vagrants, the health hazards they bring with them, and criminal activity that follows transients and panhandlers.

They have enjoyed a visible renaissance in their most popular locations along the beach, the oceanfront hotels, nightlife and the landmark Daytona Beach Boardwalk. But, some business owners are saying they believe St Augustine’s declining conditions during the same period are in part the result of transients being pushed out of Daytona Beach.

Whatever the cause, the increasing occurrence of police calls and arrests for trespassing, open container, disorderly intoxication, shoplifting, municipal panhandling ordinance violation, drug possession and sale, as well as discovery of unserved local and out-of-town arrest warrants, cannot be denied.

Historic City News is being told that guests of our most visible tourism locations, like St George Street, it’s cross-streets and narrower parallel streets where people go to enjoy cuisine from around the world, are growingly becoming more dangerous, the vagrants are becoming more threatening and violent, and the public health conditions are at an all-time low.

One store owner said he feared exposure of infected human waste to his customers and employees, another recalled a rape that occurred in the restroom of a popular Hypolita Street restaurant a few weeks ago, and a ladies store manager who is a wife and mother remarked that she is sometimes afraid to walk to her car — especially when she gets off work and it is already dark outside.

One of St Augustine’s oldest continuously operated businesses downtown, H. W. Davis Co, experienced one such health issue this past weekend when a regular face on St George Street was transported by St Johns Fire Rescue to Flagler Hospital for emergency medical treatment.

Disturbingly, it was discovered that after being treated for pneumonia and MRSA, a highly contagious form of staph that is hyper-resistant to most common antibiotics, she was released from the hospital and she found her way back to St George Street.

The woman, believed to be living on the street, pushes a walker loaded to the brim with her take from the day’s dumpster diving and panhandling. She has been observed going to the St Augustine Municipal Marina to change her soiled clothes. She often leaves feces and urine-soaked garments on the restroom floor for city employees to remove. This weekend she was photographed after walking through the historic district with human waste dripping from her shorts.

In the front of the H. W. Davis Co building, there is an alcove protected from the wind where transients and vagrants often curl up and sleep. This weekend, the suspected MRSA carrier wrapped herself in blankets and collapsed on the tile floor. In a photograph provided to authorities at City Hall, she is clearly seen passed out with human waste running from her body to the sewer cap in the center of the street. The owner says it is disgusting and he is concerned that vulnerable children and others will encounter the biohazardous material which is likely to be highly infectious.

He told Historic City News that he paid his contractor to run a line to a faucet at the front of his store so that he could at least hose down overflowing trash receptacles after incidents of vagrants vomiting in and on the wooden frames. As to the recent problem in the alcove, he realizes that MRSA is contagious and can be spread to other people through skin-to-skin contact and water is no substitute for medical disinfectants. He says the City needs something strong enough to kill the infection which can range from mild to very serious, even life- threatening.

We talked to shop managers from Avenida Menendez to Cordova Street and crisscrossed the most congested areas at about 3:00 p.m. Except for two merchants who said that they close before the night crowd comes out, eight other businesses said conditions are worsening daily and one remarked that it is worse now than before the new panhandling ordinance was implemented last year.