What's the Story Behind the Strip Panhandlers? - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

5/13/04

What's the Story Behind the Strip Panhandlers?

Some people around Lubbock have seen panhandlers for 20 years. Some people call them "professional panhandlers" because it is the way they make their living and pay their bills. The panhandlers we followed hitch a ride with friends to the strip and they spend hours telling you stories they want you to believe.

They beg for your money on 98th Street next to "The Strip" in Lubbock County. People who work at the surrounding businesses say bums have been permanent fixtures. "From how I understand it, they've been doing it for quite a while," said Helen Green, an employee at Smokin J's.

But who are these beggars? What's their story? Better yet, are they telling you the truth, or are they corner crooks?

NewsChannel 11 staked out the corner where two bums beg for money on a regular basis. For two days, we found other people begging. For one man, his truck apparently broke down. We did find he was legitimate after we followed him to a mechanic. But it was what he did before that you may find disturbing. He bought beer with some of the that money and shared it with one of the other beggars. That beggar is named Rick. He is the man with the one leg. "I don't use the money that I make out here to buy my beer or anything like that," said Rick.

Rick says he uses the money he makes for medical purposes or to pay his bills. Sometimes he'll write on cardboard that he needs money to pay for storage or for house payments. But when we asked if he lives alone? "Sometimes I do. But most of the time, I stay with friends," said Rick.

"How long have you been doing this?" asked NewsChannel 11. "A few months," answered Rick. But some workers have seen him begging at least one year, maybe more than that.

Workers have also seen Jerry on the corner. He is the beggar who uses a walker with a sign tied to the front. Jerry claims he is terminally ill and has been for five years with lung and colon cancer. "I have never scammed nobody out of nothin," Jerry said.

You need to be the judge of that. When we followed Jerry, we caught him smoking. Then later that day, we followed Jerry after he was picked up by his friends. They stopped at Hoot's Liquor, Beer and Wine and bought a case of beer.

We confronted Jerry a week later about what we saw. "They guy who picks me up drinks, but I don't. I do not drink. I do smoke occasionally," said Jerry.

So how does Jerry spend the money he is given if he does not spend it on alcohol? "I use the money to buy food and bills. Social Security only gives me $400 a month. And that is not enough to make a living," said Jerry.

Major Mark Satterlee of the Salvation Army says he hears the same story all the time. His recommendation? Don't give panhandlers cash because you never know how they really use the money. "Just to hand cash out the window to someone who says they're needy is just making a big problem worse. Because chances are, if they couldn't be responsible with their money before, they're not going to be responsible for the money you give them," said Satterlee.

"You have to understand that people might think you're scamming them because you pick a corner that's adjacent from The Strip," said NewsChannel 11 to Jerry. "Well, if I wanted to be at the liquor store, I'd be standing on that side just like that guy over there is," he said.

However, worker Helen Green believes these guys are legitimate. "Do you think any of these guys are scamming?" asked NewsChannel 11. "Some of them I really don't know. I know the one with the walker is not. I don't think Rick is," said Helen.

Are these people corner crooks? Again, you be the judge. At least now, you know more about the panhandlers who stand on 98th Street next to The Strip asking for your generosity and your money.

So what about the law? Are these panhandlers breaking it? We called Lubbock County, and as far as they know, it is not against the law to panhandle as long as they are on public property. Plus, the county says they do not receive many complaints either.

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