A panhandling problem? Here’s what EPD is planning

A panhandling problem? Here’s what EPD is planning
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - You see them on all sides of town, everywhere you go.

Panhandlers are often holding signs at busy Evansville intersections, asking for money.

Evansville Police Sgt. Josh Brewer spent years as the department’s homeless liaison. He says in that time, he learned people are passionate about panhandlers, but are uneducated about them.

“People are opinionated on it, whether its for it, ‘hey leave them alone, give them a few bucks, I give them a dollar every time I see them,’ or its, ‘hey they’re lazy they need to get a job,’” Brewer said.

Whichever side you fall on, it’s Brewer’s belief that we don’t know enough about panhandlers. That’s what he’s trying to change.

In 2019, EPD partnered with the Evansville Vanderburgh Commission on Homelessness to launch a study. They wanted to learn about why people are panhandling, so they could find better ways to help them. So they went around and asked panhandlers in Evansville a series of questions, hoping to find answers.

“Do you see the same people standing at the same intersections day after day, week after week, month after month?” Brewer asked. “You do — so is that money helping?”

The results of that study were never made public. The pandemic paused their plans for launching a new program.

We were given a look into those survey results, and saw some staggering statistics.

According to that 2019 data, 62% of panhandlers reported current or past substance abuse. EPD data shows 74% of the people interviewed had at least one drug or alcohol arrest.

So when you give money to someone on the side of the road, how confident can you be that that money going towards a need?

“When we’re giving money on the side of the roadway, are we really helping?” Brewer asked. “They’re an individual in crisis. We want to help. We want to find the right way to help, and I think we’re finally getting there.”

EPD and the Commission on Homelessness are renewing their efforts, partially due to a story we ran, investigating suspicious panhandlers on the west side.

[Previous story: Where is your money going? 14 News investigates suspicious stoplight signs]

They’ve launched a new study, seeking updated data, but looking into the same things they did four years ago.

At the beginning of August, officers began going around the city, interviewing panhandlers. They’ll continue collecting data through October. Then, members of the Commission on Homelessness will decide how they can best assist panhandlers.

One solution could be putting up signs in busy intersections, proposing an alternative way to donate, instead of handing someone a couple dollars. That way you could guarantee your money is going to help those in crisis.

Whatever police find in their survey, we’ll make sure to report. Then, once they decide how they can best assist panhandlers, we’ll bring you that information.