Panhandling: Don't Get Duped

I became interested in panhandling during the summer when I would see the same people on street corners repeatedly. It bothered me. I thought, with so many organizations to help provide food and shelter why weren't the panhandlers accessing these services? Then it occurred to me, maybe the people with signs just want your money not the help that gets them out of panhandling.

With a sign and a look of sadness and destitute, panhandlers often play on both the sympathy and guilt of Tulsans.

"That's leeching off of society."

Steve Whitaker who runs the John 3:16 Mission says panhandling peddles dependency.

"Standing on a street corner and asking for cash is not working for a living." says Whitaker

Often it's a scam.

"Those signs that say need shelter or need food, that's not exactly true."

Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen recalls one incident.

"We had one officer arrest one on a warrant that took over a thousand dollars in one's, fives and tens," says Tulsa Police Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen.

Remember this guy.

"It's not an everyday thing coming out here."

We met Mark McCune with his hand out at 71st and Highway 75.

"And I'm getting so tired of people saying no," says .

He told us he'd been panhandling for 5 months.

"My desire is to get a job so I have a steady income coming in so I can start getting back on my feet," says McCune.

Now before you dive for dollars...

"Hey Linda,"

Deputy Chief Larsen has an idea.

"I want to know what he's been arrested for," asks Larsen.

It's clear police have his number.

"Trespassing, sex offense, false impersonation, public order crimes, possession of controlled drugs,, weapons charges to name a few," Larsen.

Ninety-eight total arrests.

"Not quite the saint he says he is," says Larsen.

And suddenly the reality of panhandling sinks in.

"Just trying to survive," says a panhandler outside a Tulsa drugstore.

Often store employees have to run them off.

"You guys are on target. I'm telling you that, you're, this thing is getting ready to be addressed and you're on top of it."

QuikTrips Mike Thornbrough on customers pestered by prevaricating panhandlers.

"My car is out of gas, I'm from out of town and my family is stranded, he says.

Police confirm that some of the panhandlers come from Oklahoma City because Tulsans are more generous.

"These rings see law enforcement drive away they come right back and here we go again," says Thornbrough.

Stoping them is an ongoing battle. With an estimated 100 to 170 panhandlers in Tulsa, the offenses add up.

"Every time somebody holds money out and he reaches past that curb line he's breaking the law," says Larsen.

Panhandlers can also be aggressive.

"The problem is that we get is you guys stepping into the street all the time. I'm not stepping in the street, I was on the grass.'You step into the street causing traffic hazards and also delay the traffic on getting through," says a Tulsa Police Officer.

Stronger ordinances and tougher fines will they stop panhandling?

"From our position we've got it backwards."

Michael Brose with the Mental Health Association says we should take a cue from Denver Colorado.

"What we need our city council to do to lead the charge and a campaign to educate the community, don't give money to panhandlers, adds Brose.

"Unfortunately a lot of times the money they receive goes for elicit drugs, alcohol or everything but food or everything but shelter," says Brose.

This panhandler confirms it.

"I made the money to drink on today," says Panhandler, Barbara Prince.

"If we continue to give those individuals cash, money we might as well expect that panhandling in Tulsa Oklahoma will continue," says Brose.

Meaning panhandlers will remain even further from the reach of those agencies willing to lend a helping and sustaining hand.

From those I've talked to, panhandlers can make 40, 50, even 60 thousand dollars a year from panhandling in Tulsa. Prime intersections yield premium pay.