Richard Robinson sleeps on the street, having made his way down to this quirky island city in September with just a guitar, the clothes on his back and some stories.

"People see me singing or something, and they laugh and give me some money or something," said Robinson, 35. "People like me for some reason."

Robinson is caught in Key West's campaign to rid itself of about 2,000 homeless people. City commissioners have created a no-panhandling zone in its tourist-heavy downtown district, meaning those caught sleeping in storefronts or begging for change can get up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Opponents say the law discriminates against the poor and violates constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly rights. But many city officials say the change is necessary, maintaining that the homeless problem hurts local businesses and scares off tourists.

Homelessness has long been a problem in this city of 26,000, where well-paying jobs and affordable housing are in short supply. The homeless are attracted to the southernmost point in the continental United States because of its warm weather and tourists with loose cash who wander Duval Street, the main drag.

"We've always had panhandlers on Duval since I can remember -- just not as aggressive," said Commissioner Jerry Anthony, who voted for the measure.

The Key West law is part of a national trend of new anti-panhandling laws. Ordinances calling for panhandlers to be arrested and fined have been passed in Providence, R.I.; Fresno, Calif.; Huntington, W.Va.; Eugene, Ore.; and Las Cruces, N.M.

Key West, widely known as the longtime home of Ernest Hemingway, attracts many tourists with its laid-back image.

The city is known for its tolerance. It has a large gay population and is a popular destination for gay tourists. An anti-discrimination ordinance stands out from those in most cities because it includes protections for transgender people.

The city's reputation is the source of its "One Human Family" slogan.

" 'One Human Family' does not include criminals or people who don't want to earn their way in society," said Tom Oosterhoudt, a city commissioner who sponsored the no-panhandling measure. "The fact is, people that own businesses and own houses also have rights."

Key West essentially banned homeless people from an area that includes the famous Duval Street bars Sloppy Joe's and Hog's Breath, several hotels and restaurants, and the main stop for a popular tourist train.

Many tourists said the homeless aren't such a nuisance, and some are sympathetic.

"We have homeless people up north who have to huddle up against warm buildings," said Geoff Smith of Cooperstown, N.Y., who said the city should not have banned the homeless. "It's warm down here. I don't think you need to worry about homeless people in Key West."

Sitting with his back to the wall of an empty storefront, Robinson, who says he lost his job as a carpenter in 1997, shrugs off the new law.

"It's kind of that way anywhere," said Robinson, who has spent time in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Tampa and Miami in the past four years. "At least in other places you can't find a good place to eat."

Robinson said he tried to find a job but found no takers, so he sets up shop along Duval Street with a sign that says, "Why lie? I need a beer." He said he's still learning the guitar and manages to keep clean using sinks or hoses.

Oosterhoudt said he sympathizes with the small group of homeless with paying jobs who can't afford even a small apartment in expensive Key West.

"But a lot of these people are so dysfunctional that they don't have any desire to work," Oosterhoudt said. "At some point, you have to protect the civilized members of society. We can be as compassionate as we want, but we have to be compassionate to everybody."

Lynn Felten owns a Duval Street booth that sells snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing trips. He says panhandlers sometimes bother his customers as they wait in line.

"I don't wish anybody any bad, but I hate them," Felten said. "Florida is slanted, and all the nuts come down to Key West."

Commissioner Carmen Turner, who voted against the panhandling ban, accuses Oosterhoudt of failing to seek a long-term solution to the problem.

She hopes that a Feb. 12 meeting between city officials, citizens and advocates for the homeless will help. Another homelessness measure, to prevent people from sleeping in environmentally sensitive mangrove areas, will be up for a vote about a week after the meeting.

While the dispute continues., there's a sign the law has the potential to work: Robinson plans to leave Key West this month, destination unknown.

"Everybody has to make a living," Robinson said. "It's time to go play another show."

Key West, Fla. has banned panhandling in some areas that are popular with tourists. Violators face a fine of $500 and jail sentence up to 60 days.