Panhandlers: Why Opening Your Wallet Is Probably Not The Best Move

By Jeff Neumeyer

November 21, 2011 Updated Nov 21, 2011 at 6:24 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- What goes through your mind when you see someone holding up a sign that reads, "Will work for food"?

Begging is a big issue in many major U.S. cities and it's not uncommon in Fort Wayne.

We connected with a young guy asking for donations at a local shopping mall.

Preston Arbuckle/Panhandler: " We have to do what we have to do. I can't go more than 48 hours without eating just like you can't."

He told us his name is Preston Arbuckle.

His sign read, "Broke and Hungry, Anything Helps".

He claims he lost his job at a local eatery in March and hasn't been able to find work since.

He shared on this particular day, in one hour, he picked up $20.00 in donations.

But that's not all the passersby were offering.

Preston Arbuckle/Panhandler: " There are the other people that are like, oh, you just need to get a job, you're out here robbing people. They swear that I'm robbing people. The funniest thing is, I don't put a gun to any of these people's heads. I don't hold them up at knifepoint or anything like that. I'm just asking for a donation."

Gary Chester/Former Rescue Mission Resident: " It's all about spinning a yarn that allows them to feel good for a moment by giving you their money."

Gary Chester did some panhandling years ago, before a one-year stay in the Rescue Mission helped him kick a drug habit and get his life back on track.

He says most beggars on a street corner are looking for cash to buy cigarettes, booze or drugs.

But he says skilled panhandlers can set up a scene to make a bundle.

Gary Chester: " A WalMart parking lot, with the hood up on your car, and you stuff a pillow under your girlfriend's coat and you've got the pregnant wife, people are suckers for that. That's where you can make $5.00 bills, $10.00 bills, sometimes even $20.00 bills."

Orlando and San Francisco are cities with tough ordinances against panhandling.

Last year, police in Boston conducted an educational outreach to residents, urging them not to give to panhandlers.

Fort Wayne City Council in 2010 debated a crackdown on panhandlers, but eventually backed off, passing an ordinance that permits most forms of panhandling as protected free speech.

Jeff Neumeyer: " The Salvation Army, of course, has a long history of helping out people in need. But Major Harold Poff, who is in charge of the Fort Wayne office, wouldn't advise you to open your wallet for a panhandler.

Major Harold Poff/Allen Co. Salvation Army: " Some of these folks are professionals. They do this all the time, whether the economy is good or bad."

Visitors who are hungry are allowed to get food from the agency's pantry.

Poff's advice; give food not money.

Major Harold Poff/Salvation Army: " If they're truly hungry, they'll take the food. If they're looking for something else, maybe not so much."

Which brings us back to Preston Arbuckle.

He snapped at our offer for lunch, expressing gratitude, even if many folks are convinced the kindhearted that help panhandlers are actually being scammed.

Something else you should take into consideration.

Some panhandlers are criminals or fugitives from the law.

Don’t take unnecessary chances for your own safety.

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