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Panhandling returns to the north end of Wooster

Wooster is bustling with the arrival of the Christmas season, and another seasonal sight, panhandling, has also returned to the north end of town.

file photo

Wooster residents have likely noticed the influx of traffic in the north end of town. The hustle and bustle of the holidays isn’t the only addition to the area, however. Panhandling has again increased.

One might feel guilty simply ignoring or driving by the panhandlers, too. Their signs communicate desperation—pulling on heart strings during the time of year that people are the most generous.

Joe Rubino, outreach pastor at Parkview Christian Church, first noticed the panhandlers last year. After approaching each one, he learned that they had not been to any of the agencies in the community. Further, three of them were from Portage County and two initially claimed to be from Stark County, but later said they were from Dalton.

“Our county has a good reputation of being a place of safe benevolence for hurting people. It is the many hard working churches, social agencies, city workers and community volunteers who make it that way. There is no reason that anyone in our county should ever go hungry because of the deep resources available to our citizens. Therefore, I am really troubled that panhandling would ever be a resort that our citizens would have to find themselves wrapped up in,” Rubino explained.

Matt Fisher, chief of police for the Wooster Police Department, reported that the panhandlers have been approached by them as well. Those they spoke with claimed to be from Ravenna.

“These folks have the means and the transportation to get here from Ravenna, and then panhandle,” Fisher said.

Rubino offered advice to the community for responding to panhandling. His approach is one of respect and gives panhandlers an opportunity to meet basic needs on their own.

“If you are a kind person and compelled to give individually in person, stop by our local United Way and ask for one of their 211 pamphlets. These pamphlets have a listing of every agency in Wooster that provides not only food assistance, but prescription, utility, rent, mortgage, medical bills, legal aid, fair housing and more,” Rubino said.

Additionally, for those who desire to approach panhandlers, these pamphlets could be provided to them as well. Anyone who attends a church that offers a food pantry could offer the dates and times of operation for the pantry. Rubino reminded that no one should approach a panhandler unless it is coming from a place of kindness. Judging or arguing with the panhandlers will not solve anything.

“Never offer to give a ride or give out any personal information. Remember, the panhandler got to said location somehow, they will find a way to get to our agencies if they want to,” Rubino continued.

Offering any information to the panhandlers is best in groups of two to three people who have the same goal. According to Rubino, this ensures safety and support for everyone involved.

The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing offers a guide for responding to panhandling as a community. Within the guide, it was explained that most homeless don’t panhandle, and most panhandlers are not homeless. The article also profiles a typical panhandler and describes communities that are most attractive to panhandlers. The guide can be found at http://www.popcenter.org/problems/panhandling/1.

“The lives of these people can really be touched and changed if instead of receiving what they are used to getting from our passers-by—money and supplies, they begin to receive hundreds of referrals to professionals that can offer short term help and long term solutions. Maybe, hopefully, this will bring a positive opportunity that they will respond to accordingly, leading to healthier lives for themselves and their families,” Rubino concluded.

Lastly, Richard Frazier, administrator of the Wooster Hope Center and pastor of DayBreak Community Church, said he would like to develop a committee that would require free registration for panhandlers, similar to what is done in Akron. Therefore, those in need will receive assistance and there is accountability to the panhandling.

Published: December 17, 2012
New Article ID: 2012712179946