ORLANDO, Fla. -- The City of Orlando gave the final approval for an ambassador program Tuesday that is meant to help with downtown issues -- from tourists to panhandlers.

  • Downtown Ambassador Program approved in Orlando
  • Ambassadors to help tourists with info, keep city clean
  • Also supposed to help curb panhandling by providing info, resources

The objective is to help tourists, keep the city clean and curb panhandling. The Downtown Ambassador Program is a $725,000 plan that will be funded through the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

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, 7-Eleven owner in the 55 West Building. "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 6 months."

To prove it, he pulled out a whole binder full of the yellow papers.

Just down the street, Monica McCown at Artisan’s Table understands the issue too.

"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," McCown said. "But they also harass my guests when they are actually at the restaurant on our patio, and I have even had staff assaulted."   

Both business owners support the Downtown Ambassador Program. The two year-pilot program would hire people called ambassadors to be downtown 24/7, ready to help tourists with places to go and to help panhandlers get resources for food, shelter and more.

"All the places I have been in the United States, all of them had Ambassador services," said Andre Gooden.

Gooden has been homeless in Orlando for almost five months.  

"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," said Gooden. "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."

The city and CRA knows this program will not solve the panhandling problem, but it could be a big start in curbing a longtime downtown issue.

"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.  

The program will be outsourced to an experienced ambassador company called Block by Block. The program is expected to begin in the fall.