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Local Panhandlers Worried About Pending City Legislation

These Akron men are OK with registering for licenses, but express concern about restrictions on where they can stand.

Three Akron men who regularly panhandle at busy Fairlawn intersections have no complaints about pending city council legislation that would require them to register for licenses. But one man questions whether the ACLU of Ohio will challenge the second piece of legislation dictating where panhandlers

Leonard Wilson, 59, says he is permanently disabled and struggling to support his family of four on Social Security benefits supplemented by donations from strangers. The former landscaper is well-versed in the finer points of panhandling laws in a number of area cities, which is why he’s familiar with the ACLU’s challenges to laws that unfairly restrict the activity.

Wilson — who wears his Akron panhandler’s ID badge while soliciting in Fairlawn — watched closely last summer as Akron City Council considered legislation that would make its long-standing panhandler regulations even more stringent.

“It’s my First Amendment right to stand here on public property,” Wilson said while holding a sign at the Cleveland-Massillon Road entrance to the Rosemont Commons shopping plaza. “If this passes, the ACLU could threaten to sue like they did in Akron last year.”

Akron’s proposed ordinance — which has yet to be approved — would prohibit panhandlers from standing within 100 feet of intersections. Fairlawn’s proposed ordinance says panhandlers cannot stand within 25 feet of:

  • Any intersecting streets or crosswalks within the city.
  • Any street or driveway entrance to or exit from shopping plazas, shopping districts, commercial or business establishments, churches or public or private schools.
  • Any bus stop.
  • Any ATM or bank.
  • Any sidewalk cafe or outdoor cafe restaurant
  • Any driveway entrance to or exits from an automobile service station

Wilson paced out several feet along the sidewalk to get an idea of where 25 feet would land him and pointed out it would be “in the middle of nowhere” with cars zipping by at 40-some miles per hour.

“I know this is not a concrete, legitimate job with a paycheck, but it’s how I feed my kids,” the once-homeless Wilson said. “The time I put in out here panhandling helped me support myself to get to a point where I could get my family back together again.”

Akron resident Wendell Elie, 46, also was wearing his Akron panhandler’s ID badge while working the northeast corner of Cleveland-Massillon Road and West Market Street, outside . Elie wasn’t aware of Fairlawn’s proposed law, but said he would gladly register for a license.

Told about the 25-foot ban from intersections, however, the homeless Elie said he is concerned about how he’d get money to eat and rent rooms from time to time. Donations, he said, come from motorists stopped at traffic lights. If he wasn’t stationed at a corner, donations wouldn’t happen.

“I want a job. I don’t want to do this forever,” said the former restaurant kitchen prep worker who’s been unemployed since 2009. Money from strangers, he said, is what keeps him going.

Stationed at the West Market entrance to Rosemont Commons was an Akron man named Junior, 45, who said panhandling “is my job. Sometimes I make twenty-five dollars, sometimes two-fifty ... you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Junior said he follows the panhandler code of conduct: no littering, stay on public property, stay out of roadways and more. Instead of creating more rules for panhandlers, he said, Fairlawn officials should do something about the mental and physical abuse to which panhandlers are subjected.

“People cuss us out, call us (racial slurs) and throw stuff at us. Just today I had a guy chasing me in his car through a parking lot. I had to use my little bit of money to get on the bus just to get away from him,” said Junior, who said he is “living in the bushes where the groundhogs live.”

Wilson concurred that panhandling “is dangerous.” He’s had people scream “die, (racial slur), die” at him, had a gun pulled on him, had handfuls of change thrown at his head and once had to run from a young male who drove his Jeep up onto the sidewalk to threaten him.

“But the few people who do help make it worth all the abuse,” Wilson said.

Megan Rozsa April 09, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Thanks for your thoughts, Claudia. Do you think this legislation would help solve the problem? Does it make you feel better that panhandlers have to register with the PD?
Joshua panhandler April 09, 2012 at 01:27 PM
As an out of state panhandler in the southeast, I disagree with the 25 feet from an intersection ban as well. And it is true we suffer a lot of abuse out here. I've had fists full of pennies tossed at my head at 40+ MPH, a handgun pulled on me by a Guy screaming at me that I'm a disgrace to white people, slapped across the face by an irate woman yelling at me for not being ashamed of myself, had cold cups of soda thrown at me, I've been spit on, had a soiled diaper thrown at me and countless other atrocities ... protections need to be in place.
Megan Rozsa April 09, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Joshua, Would you mind sharing your situation with us? Why do you panhandle? What put you in this position? Are you in the process of applying for jobs?
Megan Rozsa April 09, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Thanks, Claudia! Let's keep this discussion going: How do the rest of you feel about this new legislation? Do you think panhandling is a problem in Fairlawn and Bath? Since the city cannot ban panhandlers, do you think this regulation legislation will be enough?
Steven Combs April 09, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Excuse me, but if you're a panhandler how can you afford access to the internet?
SDW April 09, 2012 at 06:34 PM
stay at home parent, 1 income household with that income coming from an educator, 2 young children, modest home, very old vehicles, debt and the last time I handed money to someone was Friday evening getting off Rte. 8 @ Buchtel... I was driving and my husband handed me money before we got to the light and I was driving so I handed it to the gentleman who smiled kindly and said 'God Bless'... I pass by sometimes and sometimes I stop but each time I am uncomfortable and sad... I want my children to be raised in the real world and by people who will 'give'... I live in Highland Square and hope never to move, I frequent the area around Pat Catans at W. Market & Hawkins and while I understand those who dislike it I also wonder how some of these people vote and do they volunteer and if so where? There is no easy fix here but if 1 of the people I gave money to out of 10 was able to get a cup of coffee or take the bus home rather than exhaust themself yet again by walking or frankly even buy alcohol to help them over the hump of withdrawal (Google C Everett Koop's response when asked what he'd do if asked for money by one he knew was going to buy alcohol), if just one of the many really needed it then I am able to sleep better.
SDW April 09, 2012 at 06:41 PM
the gentleman from out of state should not feel the need to reply to questions asking about internet access in my opinion. Side Note: libraries have free internet and for those who would like to say they see homeless people with cell phones and that 'bothers them' I say I don't understand why when someone is already 'down' why we would as fellow human beings feel the need to kick them. Homeless people can have family, children, children in school even who having a cell phone is the one way for the school to reach them, they may be looking for a job and being homeless is not going to look good on an application so, some address and a working phone is important...
SDW April 09, 2012 at 06:52 PM
it is a problem, a very simple answer to your question: yes........... It is, however, a symptom of the much bigger problem we have in this state and country, the problem of inequality. Worse than the problem though are the 2 parties in charge of fixing it who have two very different views of the problem and thus two different opinions on what should be done. The panhandling 'situation' in our city while very real and to me 'heartbreaking', well, the conversation I think if taken even the slightest bit further? one tiny step further? It will be a political attack-fest.
Steven Combs April 09, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Well SDW,l I'm glad you're so optimistic. I'm not trying to single Joshua out, I'm trying to get a grasp on where he is in this panhandler situation. You have to realize that you don't have to be homeless or poor to panhandle in most cases, which is a pretty large detail you're missing in all of your comments. Without more details we're just treading water.
SDW April 09, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I see your points Mr. C. and yes I am optimistic as far as my actions but not in a flighty flower tossing way (not that you accused me of being mind you)... I rarely have answers as I see things as being such huge problems so I just stay small me, vote and do in each situation what feels 'right'. I don't know how one will be able to 'prove' they are 'homeless' and I also know that I do not want to be at the driveway heading into Pat Catans on Market to get my income and the places I regularly see people with signs, etc? I don't KNOW but I can't, simply can't imagine that it is worth anyone's time physically or emotionally who does not for one reason or another 'need' to be out there... apologies for the CAPS at times, no yelling, just emphasis.
reconeman April 09, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I too was once homeless,staying at the Haven and using the internet at the library..Thanks to the Haven,Churchs and good people,I now have a place and a job..I was on top of the world and boom, lost it all... Anybody could be next. Don't laugh..Help if you can or just say a prayer... Thanks
Gregory April 10, 2012 at 12:02 AM
If no one gave money, the panhandlers wouldn't be there...I work in Cleveland and the city advises citizens to give the money and food to organizations that help these folks. I think that these folks are eye sores no matter what their situation. I find it hard to believe that they can't find a job that pays better than standing on a corner with a cardboard sign hanging from their neck. I grew up in Copley and these folks have just appeared here in the last year or so. If they can beg 25 feet from an intersection, more power to them. I believe that the second piece of legislation will all but eliminate their presence in our area. I won't be complaining about that.
SDW April 10, 2012 at 01:55 AM
when someone says that a fellow human being is an 'eye sore no matter what their situation'? Those are the only words that need to be read in their post and it says everything I need to know about the person who posted.
Joshua panhandler April 10, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Okay, let me address this point by point. First, just because one panhandles doesn't indicate they're homeless. Second, android phones are fairly cheap, and all have wifi, and wifi is free nearly everywhere. Third, if I have no phone, what # shall I put on applications ? Yours? You coming to find me to tell me McRestaurant wants an interview? Fourth, try to get a paper application somewhere, and I wish you luck. If I have no access to the internet to apply and can't forward my resume in 5 different formats, I don't stand a chance at all. Fifth, I panhandle because my taxi career is on hold due to inability to pay a fine, hence temporary suspension. Money for said fine had to support my breast feeding wife and infant son when I required surgery for an 18mm kidney stone and was out of work 2 1/2 weeks. No one will loan me $700 for late fees, court costs, and the fine. Potential employers see few job skills in a career cabbie. Drive 3rd shift in the ghetto at bar closing time for a month and then talk to me about skills and guts needed to do it. It's all I know since my teenage years and a physical disability keeps me seeking work i can do whilst sitting down. No such work exists here for me. I had 3 choices, beg, steal, or sell drugs. I chose the option with no victims. At least I have morals and I'm honest. I could make a lot more $ at the other 2 options.
barbara walker April 10, 2012 at 03:56 AM
you never know what god have in store for you. how can people be so uncareing, you should thank god that you don't have to live not knowing if you can eat or have a place to sleep. what is wrong with helping someone when they are down . it could be you.
SDW April 10, 2012 at 04:18 AM
~face palm~ ... didn't mean to allude to 'asking for money' = homeless
Joshua panhandler April 10, 2012 at 06:49 AM
I agree, and in fact feel rather sorry for that particular person. Perhaps they need more help than I.
Mary Helsel April 11, 2012 at 03:02 PM
I would not hand out money to a stranger. When people have needs, and they are flat on their back, they would first turn to family, friends, and agencies designed to help. It seems that anyone who can stand out in all weather, can walk, hold a sign, or speak, can find a way to contribute and earn money. Some people feel that they are helping by handing out money. My way of helping is different, and it is for people I know. I also believe that by not handing out money to these individuals, they will eventually find a way to grow and become a breadwinner and contribute something of value to life. I hope that they would use some of their free time to consider doing something else.
Mary Helsel April 11, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I wrote my thoughts before reading the previous comments. To Joshua : I challenge you to discover your good talents. You believe there are only three options? I challenge you to broaden your belief system, and think about truth and goodness from within yourself.
SDW April 11, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I wish the world was as you see it, I do. I wish everyone had family to turn to. I wish everyone had friends to turn to. I wish everyone knew about all the 'agencies' they could turn to and that there were an abundance of agencies that truly helped. I wish that the time they had that was not being used for something in particular could be 'anything' like 'my' free time but I don't believe it is. I think that concern and fear for ones safety, health, future, loved ones who count on them, so many burdens that some have and the myriad of other possible complications in their lives don't always make it easy for them to do 'make money' and I admit I'm not comfortable with putting the 'contribute' in the sentence because we all know that sometimes a smile given can be a huge contribution to the person who receives it. I think unfortunately that there are times that we need to look at the big picture and at the individual and the big picture I think you may not get (in my opinion) but you are surely right about 'some' people who we may come across, surely many have 'talents' and more than 'three options' and I believe all of us have 'truth and goodness' within us but for some there is a bridge between us and an easier life and for others there is a vast ocean in front and no boats in sight.
SDW April 11, 2012 at 06:47 PM
I second your emotion Ms. Walker
Joshua panhandler April 11, 2012 at 08:36 PM
What I meant was, to get immediate cash in hand before getting evicted, and be literally outdoors with a 1 year old. Shelters here won't accept us as an unmarried couple with a child out of wedlock, and are also in a neighborhood where people of my ethnicity really shouldn't go. This is the deep south, and everything here is run by Baptist churches, and if you don't have the same beliefs as them, you get nothing at all. I won't be forced to say a prayer to a deity I may or may not believe in, just to receive a meal or for my innocent child to be fed. When you deny us service based on the perception we're sinners, it is not us who suffers, we could survive in a tent, and skip a meal. My son however, cannot.
SDW April 11, 2012 at 08:57 PM
last year my daughter's Girl Scout troop went on a field trip to Haven of Rest and were given a brief tour. What struck me that day that had never come to mind about this specific place was how the men who frequently get their meal there in the evening must be there in line by a certain time (fine) but must sit through a service before their meal. There is 'some' grey area in this for me, but very little, you can and should 'offer' a service for those who would like and I understand that people with and of faith want to 'share', I truly do. You can even try hard, hard, hard to get the visitors to join, rock on!..... most people that I love and adore are people with strong connections to their faith and the community and their church community so I am not in the slightest bit 'anti-religion' but I was saddened by the 'rule' I was told about that one must attend services before getting a meal at this place and I have since found other local places to give to... as far as 'Joshua' and his son and his son's mother not being accepted in a shelter that is run by a faith based charity? While I am a strong believer in separation of church and state, well, ugh, these sorts of things make me get very negative and want to start mixing things up and forcing them to accept all or none.
jerry hill April 22, 2012 at 08:31 AM
my name is jerry and i have panhandled for the past 5 years..my fiancee is disabled and i take care of her full time for the past 10 years with no pay...her s.s.i. Is not enough we have been homeless off and on in the past 14 years we have been together...she will sit in her wheelchair next to me when we go too bath copely area...we are doing better now just got an apaartment..took her whole s.s.i funds for the month...we still need help...we do not have a bed yet or food stamps yet if you can help us in any way please call us at 330 338 3690 or mail us donations so we can pay our bills and survive..at 26 e. Tallmadge ave aprarment 412 akron ohio 44310 im jerry hill and she is sarah sharron any help is appreciated
yamimommy May 22, 2012 at 01:09 AM
I don't give money to panhandlers holding a sign on the side of the road. I do, however, give money to buskers playing musical instruments downtown.

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