Panhandlers are manhandling intersections in Jonesboro

Some reportedly refused jobs, claiming they make more standing street-side

JONESBORO, Ark. – When Joshua Carroll saw a panhandler Monday afternoon at the corner of Highland Drive and Caraway Road, he couldn’t have imagined where the conversation would go.

“I offered to go have them rake leaves for some cash and the words was, ‘No. We can make more just standing here,” Carroll wrote in a Facebook post shared by hundreds. He said he told the man he promised to blast him on Facebook and tell everyone not to donate anymore to the beggar.

Everyone can fall on hard times. Many of us, this author included, have been there. Most of the time, it is our own doing which leads us into those situations but as sympathetic and compassionate people, we should always be willing to offer a helping hand to those who need it. However, the recent influx of panhandlers in Jonesboro raises the logical question of, “Why do so many people suddenly need help?”

Some of the answers indicate there are people who don’t need it. They want it.

Two weekends ago, a woman, who’s identity NEA Report is keeping anonymous, met one of the men who has been holding a sign asking for help at the intersection of Nettleton Avenue and Red Wolf Boulevard. She told us she had extra food and decided to stop and see if she could offer assistance to the man. His story, on the sign he held up, was that his family had fallen on hard times and they needed money or food.

However, according to our source, the man confided in her he was actually trying to buy parts for his vehicle, which needed repairs.

“I stopped to give him some food and basically he told me he was only there to raise money for a car part,” the source told NEA Report.

A week later, on Dec. 9, our source saw him on the street corner holding a sign again. Photo submitted to NEA Report.

On Dec. 9, our anonymous source returned to the very same intersection. The same man, photographed above, was holding a sign which indicated his family needed food. No mention of his automobile needing parts was written on the cardboard.

The practice of panhandling is currently legal, said JPD Public Information Officer David McDaniel. It wasn’t always allowed but after a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union challenging Arkansas anti-loitering laws which prevented it, a federal judge ruled it was constitutionally protected behavior.

“There are some caveats,” McDaniel said. “As long as you’re on public property; as long as you’re not a nuisance or danger or annoyance to where it causes public alarm. But if you’re on a public sidewalk, or island at the intersection, as long as you’re not impeding traffic or causing alarm, yeah – it is legal.”

For example, McDaniel said a panhandler can’t hang out around an ATM machine or a school (without a legal reason for being at the school).

Jonesboro’s Problem Areas

The areas where panhandling has become the biggest nuisance in Jonesboro are not areas where a homeless person might reside. For instance, the intersection at Highland Drive and Caraway Road – one of the busiest in our community – was occupied by three different panhandlers on Saturday morning, Dec. 9. Several were standing not at the side of the road, but by the traffic lights to afford drivers easiest access to stop and give money. Many did, with one black hatchback actually stopping in the intersection to make a donation to a man while cars swerved around or stopped in the middle of traffic.

One of the locations at the Highland/Caraway intersection was featured in yet another viral social media post about the matter. Shelly Scott-Gibson posted a photo showing disregard held by some of those who have been panhandling. At the bushes of the Highland and Caraway intersection were piles and piles of trash, much of which seemed to be fast food likely given to the individual begging for help.

The box is visible in one of the photos taken by NEA Report at that very intersection. Not a foot away is a panhandler.

Panhandling in Jonesboro Saturday, Dec. 9. by Stan Morris | NEA Report

While the act of panhandling may be legal, littering the community with trash is still a misdemeanor crime, McDaniel said. He was familiar with the photo of the trash left behind by a panhandler.

“If they’re there and standing and someone gives them a sandwich and they throw it on the ground, it is littering,” McDaniel said. “I have taken that photo and circulated it through department. Unfortunately, you’re dealing with a lower classification of misdemeanor, so the officer would need to be there or witness the act.”

At other intersections across town, several panhandlers have been seen bringing dogs with them while asking for donations. This may seem peculiar, but CNN Money reports panhandling with pets nets far more money on average than without. Some communities have passed ordinances banning panhandling with dogs or cats.

Many city leaders in larger communities, like Commissioner Bill Bratton of the NYPD in New York City, insist the only method of curbing panhandlers at every corner is to simply stop giving to them. Although the problem hasn’t existed in Jonesboro or NEA long enough for many to have made public opinions about it, one who did was Jonesboro Sun Editor Chris Wessel.

In an editorial on Nov. 29, Wessel, in more words, encouraged readers not to, “give street-corner beggars money or they’ll multiply and won’t go away.”

Wessel’s article made points that those who panhandle often end up spending the money on booze and drugs. Statistically, he is correct, according to a article citing research in San Francisco on the matter. The study states that 44-percent of panhandlers use money they receive for alcohol or drugs. However, 94-percent were said to use the money for food. The same study said over half of those panhandling do it daily. It becomes a lifestyle and not an extreme means to meet a desperate need.

No One Has To Be Hungry

No one should be starving in NEA. They won’t, if aware of a number of assistance opportunities in the community.

Jonesboro has many food programs which are geared for the needy and at any given point, an individual or family can usually receive grocery carts full of free food if they meet income qualifications. It’s remarkably easy and there is no judgment or resent. The Helping Neighbors Food Pantry, for example, is open Monday through Thursday at these hours. To receive services at Helping Neighbors, clients must live in Craighead County and their incomes must meet guidelines of the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

Each time they seek the Pantry’s assistance, clients must bring:

  • The most recent pay stub for all members of the household
  • Letters showing benefits from Social Security, SSI, child support, unemployment, TEA, food stamps, WIC, and any other income
  • Social Security cards or other Pantry-approved identification cards, for all members of the household (originals, not photocopies)
  • Date of birth and relationship to the head of the household for all who will receive food
  • The latest rent or utility receipt (to establish residency)
  • Clients may receive food once in each 30-day period, at which time they will receive a 3-4 day supply of food. Emergency situations are considered on an individual basis.

Helping Neighbors is just one of a number of food pantry options in Jonesboro and NEA. The Food Bank of NEA maintains a directory (click here) of all food pantries one might need. There are special pantries for college students and seniors and if one is in need, it is the experience of this reporter that they will go the extra mile to help you or your family.

Those who have real need should utilize these options.

Those who have a desire to help the needy should consider donating to the Food Bank of NEA, either with money, food, or time (more info here).

1 Comment

  1. My wife is from this state. We moved back here from iowa after losing our home to flooding last winter. We both are starting jobs soon. We are staying in a weekly room for now. I am a 16 year navy Veteran. The sorry VA wont help me with some inexpensive car parts to help my wife and i get to and from work. Went to some of these supposed help agencies. One told me to start a Go fund me campaign. REALLY. These agencies dont want to help anyone. Not even honest people in need. Ill be out there soon with the rest of the sign holders. I dont need money. Just some help. Screw the VA and the agencies.

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