The Lubbock Police Department is cracking down on panhandlers in what they're calling an effort to make the roads safer.
"Soliciting from roadways, we get calls pretty quick about that just because it holds up traffic and becomes dangerous very quickly. People start running out into the middle of traffic lanes trying to solicit," said Sgt. Jason Lewis with the LPD. "State law addresses solicitation from a roadway - it doesn't allow people to solicit from a roadway to actively engage people that are in vehicles that are in a lane of traffic."
The exact state transportation code is Sec. 552.007. In a section titled solicitation by pedestrians, it reads, "A person may not stand in a roadway to solicit a ride, contribution, employment, or business from an occupant of a vehicle, except that a person may stand in the roadway to solicit a charitable contribution if authorized to do so by the local authority having jurisdiction over the roadway."
Charitable contribution applies to things like the "Fill the Boot" campaign where the Lubbock Professional Firefighters, Lubbock Fire and Rescue and Muscular Dystrophy Association team up and stand on the streets raising money to treat neuromuscular diseases.
Since 2011, Lubbock police have issued 377 citations for illegal solicitation by pedestrians. Each citation comes with a fine of no more than $200.
Lewis says illegal solicitation can be very dangerous.
"They start trying to beat lights or get as many cars as possible and people aren't paying attention to the fact that they start running zig zag in between vehicles to try and collect money or sell as much as they can," he said. "Please don't do that because all it does is encourage them to run out into traffic even more."
Les Burrus has firsthand experience with Lubbock's homeless population. He is the Executive Director of Link Ministries and oversees Tent City.
"At Tent City our policy is if you panhandle you don't live at Tent City. If we catch you panhandling you've got to make a choice of either continuing that lifestyle or coming to Tent City and trying to find a job," he said. "What we've seen, or my experience anyway, is a lot of the panhandlers are really in it to self medicate, just to get the money."
Burrus says many residents at Tent City who have panhandled say they do it because it's easier than looking for work.
"We've had one that has chosen to leave Tent City to go back to panhandling. I've seen them as a couple. They're on the street over by Walmart a lot. You look at them and you know they're substance abusers," he said. "The average from what we've gathered from some of the people is about $200 a day that they can get. If you look on the street that's what they get - people handing them a ten, a twenty makes the person feel good but we have to ask is that really helping that person."
Burrus supports LPD's crackdown and hopes in the future there will be a way to help panhandlers get help instead of continuing drug usage.
Copyright 2014 KCBD. All rights reserved.