How to best help a panhandler in St. George, numbers increase

Stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Just as the snowbirds migrate to southwest Utah to avoid much of the snow and cold of winter, so too do transients who may find the area to be a warm-weather port. This can bring about an increase in panhandling, which officials are asking area residents not to support.

This June 2016 file photo shows St. George Police Capt. Gordon McCracken at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Salvation Army's new service center in St. George. The Salvation Army works with the Police Department, providing police vouchers for gas and hotels they can offer to Salvation Army clients. St. George, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Sandie Divan, St. George News
This June 2016 file photo shows St. George Police Capt. Gordon McCracken at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Salvation Army’s new service center in St. George. The Salvation Army works with the Police Department, providing police vouchers for gas and hotels they can offer to Salvation Army clients. St. George, Utah, June 3, 2016 | Photo by Sandie Divan, St. George News

Rather than sparing a few dollars that may not go as far otherwise, officials are asking the public direct those who appear to be in need to such places as Switchpoint Community Resource Center, 948 N. 1300 West, or The Salvation Army’s service corps center at 803 S. Bluff St., both in St. George. (Resource links follow at the end of this report.)

Police respond to panhandlers “a couple times a day,” St. George Police Capt. Gordon McCracken said.

“We always see a little bit of a spike,” McCracken said of the transient population in St. George this time of year, adding that it tends to increase beginning early November.

Panhandling is becoming a more common sight in St. George, a news release from Switchpoint said. Besides the weather factor that Utah’s Dixie offers, Switchpoint Executive Director Carol Hollowell said word gets out about the generous nature of area residents.

“The residents of St. George are so kind and giving but word about St. George’s generosity has gotten out and we are seeing more panhandler’s staying around the area,” Hollowell said in the news release.

“There are also many individuals who are asking for help when all they need to do is stop by Switchpoint,” Hollowell said. “We have case managers on site to assist them in finding solutions to their problem.”

Panhandling is considered a constitutionally-protected right under the First Amendment.

A statewide anti-panhandling law in Utah was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2012.

However, as part of a traffic-safety law passed in 2014, panhandlers and others have since been restricted in where they can ask for help, protest or promote a charity.

Under the law, panhandlers and others cannot “engage in conduct that impedes or blocks traffic” by being on highway on-ramps and off-ramps, along state roads, or in the median. They must be on a sidewalk. The law is designed to promote safety by discouraging individuals from walking out into traffic and potentially causing a wreck or getting hurt.

“They still have a First Amendment right to hold up a sign,” McCracken said. “They just need to know where you are not allowed to do such activities.”

While simply standing on a sidewalk with a sign asking for money or work isn’t considered a criminal offense, being aggressive about it is, McCracken said. And it isn’t exactly easy to tell whether or not an individual panhandler’s need is legitimate. So, McCraken and Hollowell ask the public not give panhandlers money.

Food pantry at Switchpoint Community Resources Center, St. George, Utah, Aug. 12, 2015 | Photo by Jessica Tempfer, St. George News
This August 2015 file photo shows the food pantry at Switchpoint Community Resource Center, St. George, Utah, Aug. 12, 2015 | Photo by Jessica Tempfer, St. George News

“Many panhandlers are not telling you the truth,” Hollowell said.

“Most of the panhandlers I have seen in St. George are already staying at Switchpoint so they don’t need money for food or shelter,” she said. “This practice is highly discouraged at Switchpoint where we really strive to do more than provide a bed and a meal for a night.”

McCracken said the police would rather see money donated to places like Switchpoint than see it given to panhandlers who may not use it as hoped.

When the police come across a panhandler, officers try to find out who the person is, where they are from and what services the community has available that may benefit them.

“The goal is not to get them into trouble,” McCracken said. “The goal is to try and get them the services they need and make sure they don’t run afoul of the law.”

Those who give panhandlers a few bucks here and there may not know there are places like Switchpoint and the Salvation Army in town.

Stock image | St. George News
Stock image | St. George News

Switchpoint, which opened two years ago, is an emergency shelter that also houses branches of multiple nonprofit and public entities that work together to help those in need ultimately find jobs and housing. Along the way, they help clients get state-issued ID, apply for social security benefits, learn how to build resumes and apply for jobs, among other services.

“Contact dispatch (435-627-4300)  and let them know where the individual is and what they look like so they (responders) can stop by and direct them to us,” Hollowell said. “However, for your safety, please do not offer rides to panhandlers in your vehicle.”

Just as the act of panhandling itself is no crime, McCracken said, it also isn’t a crime for someone to fake a need to ask for money in such fashion.

“That’s the problem,” he said “They toy on people’s heartstrings. There’s no crime in ‘Brother, can you spare a dime’ and really not need the dime. This is a reason we want the general public to be aware. … There are a number of services for the people that want them.”

Resources

  • Switchpoint Community Resource Center | Location: 948 N. 1300 West, St. George | Telephone 435-628-9310Website.
  • The Salvation Army of Southern Utah | Location: 803 S. Bluff St., St. George | Mail to: P.O. Box 3211, St. George, UT 84771 | Telephone Steve Staneart 435-218-6243 | Email salvationarmy.so.ut@gmail.com | Webpage.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

 

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18 Comments

  • CaliGirl December 11, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    I carry quart-sized ziploc bags that contain a bus pass with route map, a list of services available (i.e., Switch point, Dixie Vet Center, etc…), a bag of trail mix and a bible tract. I give that along with a bottle of water.

  • youcandoit December 11, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I agree I think it’s b.s. they can’t find work because I see Soooooo many help wanted.

    • youcandoit December 11, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      It also makes me not go shopping when they’re out there. I don’t feel safe.

  • .... December 11, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    I carry cards I had made up by me and it has all the phone numbers and all the addresses of the available facilities and services to assist them

    I don’t give money because we used to give panhandlers cash and followed them to the store for either wine.beer and cigarettes. I don’t consider booze and cigarettes as helping someone out

  • 42214 December 12, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I give them a card with Bernie Sander’ s phone number so they can get a piece of socialism.

  • maggie December 12, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Most of you have really good ideas…only one jerk in the crowd!

  • 42214 December 12, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Maggie, I thought Caligirl’s thoughts were positive and uplifting. Why would you call her a jerk?

  • Oceansize December 12, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Who cares! I hope all of Cali’s homeless show up. They will contrast wonderfully with all the seniors trying to figure out “How to turn 55.” by purchasing 3-500k homes with 6-8 rooms that only two old people will ever live in, surrounded by dirt, nothing but dirt, for as far as the eye can see! When I get home, I’m going to tell every bum I see that St. George is paradise for homeless, drug addicts, and the mentally ill.

    • 42214 December 13, 2016 at 9:58 am

      That will be 90% of the people where you live.

      • Oceansize December 19, 2016 at 9:15 pm

        That may be true? I’m open to your exaggerated opinion about Californians; and you should be open to 90% of the people in Utah have been “brainwashed” by a very powerful cult. The gang bangers, dope fiends, homeless people, and senior citizens are already and ruining utopia!

      • 42214 December 20, 2016 at 10:08 am

        “That may be true” is all you had to say.

  • digger December 13, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Ya all gotta ask yourself, What Would Jesus Do?

  • Joe December 13, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Got it! Don’t help them, don’t give them rides. Just call the police on them.

    Switch Point fills up and when you say “them” you are referring to people that have just as much value as you. If I see someone in need not only will I give them a ride, I will take them home with me feed them let them take a shower while I wash their clothes and make a bed for them to spend the night.

    Those who are down on their luck don’t need an institution. They need friends.

  • utahdiablo December 23, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Yep, all these Bums are starting to multiply in their numbers, most we see here in Washington City hang in the front of Walmart ( in the median ) or at the Ihop or Costco, pretty much set you watch when they will be there. We moved here from so Cal 12 years ago and saw this crap everywhere ( even “families”, yes children with their stuffed aminmals for sale near the freeway looking for “donations” ) and we also saw first hand the roll of cash that these “Professional Grifters” would make at the California freeway entrance onramp, and after a few hours, then take the roll of money and get back into their late model car or truck. Our local Police departments in California had public meetings and news articles along with warning to us not to give them money…. Many stories are out there to read about these crooks. And yes of course there may be real people in real need out there, But in todays society with public safety nets available in each city? They can get help if they really wish to receive it…. but these crooks are out numbering the really needy here in southern Utah anyway, so we just call the Police and it’s a done deal until the next time, then we call again……Housing, Food, Work placement, are all available to anyone, even illegal aliens of any race or country…keep that in mind before you toss your hard earned money out the window

  • Lazarus February 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Envious spiteful hatred here is a quote from switchpoint’s website (People experiencing homelessness suffer from the hardship of their condition, but also face alienation and discrimination fueled by stereotypes. Here are some myths and realities of homelessness) Stereotyping folks in this article is by their own words not except able , then there is a police Captain who starts with this is not a crime???? why then is he involved? Meddling whisperers gossiping haters. the whole purpose of this article is to teach hate.

  • Lazarus February 15, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    I agree with Trump Fake media good example here

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