Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott had just finished shopping at Walmart Sunday afternoon and was headed to pickup some fast food when he noticed some blankets, a coat, and food items on the street corner at Kearney and Glenstone.
There was no one around, Arnott said, and he assumed the items had been left by a panhandler.
Frustrated, Arnott took a couple of photos and posted them on Facebook.
"Springfield I know you are generous," Arnott wrote in the post. "However when you give nice coats, food and pack a bag with gloves, sweatshirts etc, after they have enough cash, they leave your stuff and go buy beer to enjoy back at their house. Stop enabling this behavior!"
Arnott said a friend suggested he make the post public so anyone could see, share or comment on his post.
By noon Monday, the post had been shared about 3,000 times and had more than 1,700 reactions.
Some agreed with the sheriff.
"Thank you, sheriff. I think most people in Springfield really do care about the homeless and are genuinely puzzled about the increase in panhandling," Angie Brushwood wrote.
Facebook user Tim Nivens appeared convinced: "I'll never give to anyone of them again."
Other commenters took issue with the sheriff's call to action.
"Why judge all by a few? Those of us that are blessed should share our blessings," wrote Facebook user Juline Fontinelle.
Arnott said he was surprised by the interest his post generated.
"It's got people talking about the issue. That is a good thing," he said. "We shouldn't be handing out money on the street corner. We should be giving to organizations where we know where the money goes."
Arnott said his post is not about homeless people. It's about panhandlers, Arnott said, adding that he believes most panhandlers claim to be homeless or homeless veterans but are not.
Arnott said he has encountered one homeless panhandler in the past three years.
"All the ones I've run across, usually three or four a week, they will have $50 in cash and are still standing there and actually have a place to go," he said. "Helping homeless is one thing and I'm all for that. People that are panhandling is another thing. Not only is it dangerous to be there, but we see it over and over again: the money feeds addiction whether it's alcohol or drugs."
Adam Bodendieck is director of One Door, this area's central point of entry for many of the homeless shelters and shelter-related services.
"Speaking anecdotally, there are some (panhandlers) who are not homeless and there are some who are."
Bodendieck said there are people who come to One Door every week who are homeless and who are panhandling.
"This notion that everybody is getting into their cars at the end of the day and driving off to their house with all of the money they made, that is not true," Bodendieck said. "For some people at this particular moment, panhandling is their only viable option for getting their basic survival needs met.
"To assume that everybody is just trying to game the system is a false assumption," he said. "But that doesn't mean that is not happening."
Many homeless advocates were not pleased by the sheriff's post.
Devery Mills is the founder of Hearts for the Homeless, a grassroots organization that helps homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless get back on their feet.
"I work with these people on a daily basis and bust my butt to do what this city won't," Mills wrote on Facebook. "Lumping all panhandlers in the same basket is just like saying all sheriffs are bad because one was caught with porn."
Mills spoke to the News-Leader about the sheriff's post.
"I was angry. It is not by any stretch professional for an elected official to interject personal opinion and to direct the city or the residents ... to be unkind. And that is really what it is. He is telling people to be unkind.
"That being said, there are scammers. I am perfectly aware of it," Mills continued.
Mills, who has been advocating for homeless people for about eight years, said she wants the community - Arnott included - to stop assuming all panhandlers are not homeless or are in need.
Take a closer look at the person, she suggested, and then follow your gut instinct before giving.
"A little bit of common sense goes a long way," Mills said. "Look at their hands. If their hands are clean, chances are they are not homeless. Is their face weathered? Are they clean shaven? Is their hair cut nice?"
Joey Moreira has been volunteering for the Wheels to Work program since it started in June.
Moreira, who was once homeless, disagrees with the sheriff's notion that most panhandlers are not homeless. He said Wheels to Work volunteers take the time to find out why a person is panhandling and he estimates 70 to 80 percent of the panhandlers he's engaged with are indeed homeless.
Moreira called many of the comments on the sheriff's post "mean and degrading" and he wishes people would be more compassionate.
"I would tell people to sincerely try to put themselves in a homeless man or woman's' shoes," Moreira said. "If you feel like giving, give. If not, don't. Give to organizations that know how and who to help. But please don't be so negative, degrading, and downright mean. I always tell people, 'Do what your heart tells you to do.'"
Arnott said he posted the photos in part because the holiday season is around the corner and he knows that people are looking for ways to help those in need.
Rather than give to panhandlers, Arnott said people should give to organizations that are helping homeless people like the Salvation Army.
Throughout Monday, hundreds of commenters weighed in on Arnott's post.
Some expressed safety concerns.
"I get very upset with the fact there are no laws stopping the distraction at major traffic intersections and highway exchanges. I had a wreck two years ago due to someone with signs asking for money," Randee Strong wrote. "This needs to stop and I saw about four possible wrecks almost happen this weekend as they run to cars to collect and continue causing distractions."
Facebook user Cindy Dollarhide wrote: "I'm always nervous that they might step off that median in front of me."
Others questioned whether or not the items Arnott photographed had been abandoned in the first place.
"Maybe they went to find a restroom," Bea Brittanie Hernandez wrote. "They're still human beings, you know."
Facebook user Susan Davis Cameron wrote in part: "What your picture doesn't show is that they stepped away to get something some other generous person was giving them not to buy beer like you assume. Quit judging, that's not your job. Solving crime is."
(Story shared by the Springfield News-Leader. Read the original article here)
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