Begging for Change: Organizations work to curb Miami Valley’s panhandling problem

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Some Dayton residents say panhandling is a persistent problem in the downtown area with people crowding street corners asking drivers for money; that’s why several organizations are collaborating to help those in need and get them off the streets.

In the City of Dayton, there are prime spots where panhandlers usually gravitate like Main Street and I-75; Edwin C. Moses Boulevard and I-75; Warren Street and U.S. 35; and Wayne Avenue and Keowee Street. Often, people asking for money choose to stand near the entrances and exits to major highways.

“I gotta do what I gotta do. It’s not fun,”

“I gotta do what I gotta do. It’s not fun,” admits 30-year-old Josh Deeter who spends his day on the corner of Patterson and Jefferson streets in Dayton.

Losing his job after recent run-ins with the law, he says he was kicked out of his home, and he says trespassed from a shelter, leaving him with no place to stay. He says he went to jail for domestic violence.

“Right now I’m staying underneath the bridges,” says Deeter.

Trying to turn his life around, he says got a job at McDonald’s on Stroop Road, but says he has trouble getting to work.

“I’m out here trying to make money to get back and forth to work,” says Deeter.

Just feet away, there are other people asking for money like Josh. Several crowd the corners near the entrance and exit ramps to U.S. 35.

Weighing in on the problem, Miami Valley resident Ed Walters says, “I’ll tell you what, it’s sickening to see it.” He says he’s given money to panhandlers before but says it was a one-time thing. “If I give my money it’s going to be to the Goodwill or in a basket at the church.”

“I have let them have a dollar or two one time, you know because I feel sorry for them, you know,” admits Dayton resident Glenn Murray. “But I’m not going to keep on doing it because I’m supporting their habits, whatever habit they got.”

Despite different opinions, standing on a street corner and holding a sign asking for money is legal.

“We can’t directly regulate panhandling.”

“I think that a lot of people actually are surprised to find out that asking people for money is protected speech,” states Dayton Assistant Prosecutor Troy Daniels, stressing it’s a First Amendment right. “We can’t directly regulate panhandling.”

A former ordinance did require some sort of registration before people were allowed to panhandle. 2 NEWS found in 2016, nine panhandling permits were issued with multiple people cited for failing to register.

According to the City of Dayton:

  • Between January 25, 2001, and September 4, 2016, 630 panhandling permits were issued
  • Between February 20, 2001, and June 16, 2016, 2,047 citations were issued for panhandling without a permit

Following a Supreme Court ruling that the registry was unenforceable and panhandling exploded.

“Where they can do it, they take advantage of that and they don’t care,” said Murray.

Click here to see the current Dayton ordinances regarding panhandling

In 2016, the City of Dayton produced a podcast featuring Assistant City Prosecutor Troy Daniels discussing the changes to the city’s panhandling ordinance.

Twenty-seven-year-old Timothy Williams begs on Wayne Avenue near U.S. 35 trying to make ends meet.

“Some days it’s just ten dollars or so,” says Williams.

“If they’re on the streets, it’s not good for those individuals, and it’s not good for our community either,”

“If they’re on the streets, it’s not good for those individuals, and it’s not good for our community either,” says Sandy Gudorf, President of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Click this image to see a brochure from Real Change Dayton on ways to give to panhandlers.

“We’re not suggesting don’t give, but what we’re suggesting is that there’s a better way to give,” says Gudorf. “We’re not suggesting that it is going to correct the problem, but we just want to bring awareness to it.”

Real Change Dayton started in June 2017 connecting people in need with money and services. It collaborates with organizations like Miami Valley Housing Opportunities. Path outreach specialists are trained to spot people who are truly in need.

“There’s no ego or judgement because it just gets you nowhere when you judge or try to quiz someone when you meet them,” states Andrea McGriff who is the Program Services Director for Miami Valley Housing Opportunities. “We can’t quiz someone, ‘Are you really homeless?'”

Angel Barger and Heather Hotchkiss are path outreach specialists with Miami Valley Housing Opportunities looking for panhandlers on the streets and visiting sites where homeless people set up camp.

“I think that a common misconception is that everybody that’s homeless is on drugs.”

“I mean nine times out of ten when we are meeting these people out here, we’re kind of a last resort for them,” says Barger. “I think that a common misconception is that everybody that’s homeless is on drugs. That is absolutely not true.”

The two work with clients to get them into shelters and eventually into housing.

“Sometimes they’re not even homeless. They’re out there trying to be able to buy food or pay their utilities or whatever the case may be,” says Hotchkiss.

The team realizes it’s a process and takes some time.

“The big thing is to keep continuously going back to these sites because it changes all the time,” states Hotchkiss.

“The need is larger than there are resources,” admits McGriff.

While the city can’t regulate people standing on corners begging for money, officials say they are making strides to help those who are really in need.

“Homelessness is a culture in itself,” says Barger.

 

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