They've been a fixture along northeast Ohio street corners and expressway entrance and exit ramps for the past couple of years, panhandlers holding signs spelling out their hardship in hopes of getting a donation from you.
But Bath Township Police Chief Mike McNeely says panhandling has turned into a profession for some in his jurisdiction, a lucrative alternative to work.
" In the Montrose area of Bath we've seen the same panhandlers out every day, even through the winter, since last year, and these are the same individuals who are out there," says McNeely.
He says some of the panhandlers look to be organized into groups that work in shifts and even use the same cardboard signs to get your attention.
" Some of the panhandlers we've spoken to say it's a way for them to make a living. There's plenty of opportunities for work that we've seen advertised in windows of stores out here, and they believe panhandling is more lucrative," says McNeely.
The police chief and his officers are most concerned about the traffic hazards the panhandlers can present, by either stepping into busy streets or interstate ramps for donations, or by causing drivers to become distracted enough to cause an accident.
The Bath Township Police Department on its Facebook page says the biggest misconception is that panhandlers are homeless. The advisory to residents states " In fact the vast majority of panhandlers are not homeless, and most homeless individuals do not panhandle." The message goes on to state "In the Fairlawn and Montrose commercial areas there have been eyewitness reports of scheduled pickups by van, appointed intersections with shifts, and one panhandler handing off his or her cardboard sign, which supposedly tells the story - homeless,unemployed, single parent, etc.- to the next person taking the shift."
The Facebook posting advises Bath Township residents that if a panhandler asks for money, the best response is to politely say "no" and walk away. The police message says a better way to help those in need is to donate to charities and organizations with outreach programs that assist the homeless and needy, or volunteer time at the participating organizations and service agencies.
McNeely says the final decision on whether to give to panhandlers should be made by each resident based on their assessment of the situation involving each panhandler.
Bath Township is powerless to regulate panhandling, since as a township they can only enforce any ordinance approved by Summit County Council. The County has yet to approve any regulations.
Akron City Council is still debating proposed panhandling legislation that was introduced in early 2011.
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