Panhandlers: Life on the Street, Part I

By: Jason Colthorp Email
By: Jason Colthorp Email

What began a couple years ago as a seeming reminder of a poor economy, now appears to be a trending business. Many busy intersections in and around the Capital City regularly are occupied with people holding signs asking for your help--- even if it's just a smile.

While some certainly are in need, a News 10 investigation in May revealed some people claiming to be homeless-- were not-- and using money to buy things as lavish as big screen TVs.
Some claiming to pull down a couple hundred bucks a day.

While some drivers are still handing out dollars, many more are seeing evidence of things not being on the up and up.

"We were in Frandor and there was a gentlemen with a sign that said will work for food so we grabbed an extra sandwich for him," Beth Cowles told me. "He went and tossed it in a pile with others and went and held his sign back up."

"One time I was at the corner and there was a lady standing there with a sign and she went across the street because she wasn't getting a lot of donations," recalls Alan Sonfilippo-Wilcox. "Behind the electrical box was a wheelchair and a bicycle. She grabbed the wheelchair and brought back over and sat in it."

Like many, Jennifer Burdick isn't heartless, just realistic.
"I feel bad but it kind of disgusts me," she said. "Because I know people who have stopped and asked them if they'd come rake their yard and they're like 'No.'"

The mayor states it flatly, "I do not hand out money on the street."

Legally the city of Lansing can't prohibit panhandling nor does it want to. But Mayor Virg Bernero wants people to know-- you are not helping them by giving them money.

"But if somebody wants to stand on a street corner... and they're making money doing it... this is America," says Bernero. "My job is to make sure there's help available for people who want real help."

"If you really want to give right then, carry some granola bars in your car."

The city spends upwards of two million dollars a year on food and shelter programs for the needy and the homeless, but the mayor thinks the needy and the homeless aren't the ones you see holding signs.

"With some of these folks at the street corners, you get into addiction issues."

Officers on the street tell me they guess 95 percent of the people holding signs use the money they get on the corner for drugs or alcohol. But that number may be inflated a bit. In our investigation, we watched more than one person leave the corner and hop in their car parked nearby and drive home-- one living right around the corner in an apartment.

"I'm sorry to say, these folks, they're out there because they want to be," said Bernero.

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  • by Kelly Location: Lansing on Nov 5, 2012 at 10:33 AM
    @ Sarah, they can site these people for asking for money as you will see the signs do not ask for cash this is the illegal part of their scheme, however they can say homeless or w/o job and of course we as society can read into that to mean they want $ w/o them physically asking. I will say I attended a funeral down town saturday, I was literally brought to tears by a old man who had his legs wrapped in plastic w/ duck tape and bags sticking out of his sleeves, yes he was infact HOMELESS obviously cold and hungry, these other people are not the lady w/ the wheel chair walks her daughter into the 6th, grade holt middle school almost every morning her family stay at the motel on the corner they are abusing the kindness of many when there are truly needy out there. I work in EL the same guy is on the FRANDOR corner daily he parks his grey pick up across the street from the bridge he is married where is his wife? Sunday 3 people 2 on one corner another on the opposite all holding signs one where she claimed to be pregnant and homeless well how did u get pregnant? Just sad sorry our economy is bad but a job at mcdonalds for most can include health insurance food discounts come on anything is more then what your getting on the corner daily
  • by Sarah Location: Lansing on Oct 31, 2012 at 04:37 AM
    Joey the Michigan Supreme Courts ruled that cities cannot prohibit panhandling....They tried to do that in Grand Rapids
  • by Joey Location: Loey on Oct 30, 2012 at 04:19 AM
    "Legally the city of Lansing can't prohibit panhandling nor does it want to" ...Why not Mr Mayor?
  • by Mike Location: East Lansing on Oct 30, 2012 at 02:59 AM
    I think Mayor Bernero said the smartest thing in all his years as mayor: give them a granola bar and not money! But to add to what he said, if you really want to help, give to the local missions and food shelters (e.g., City Rescue Mission). The people panhandling have the right to do so, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't ignore them as most of them - if not all - are fake anyway.
  • by William Nichol Location: Jackson on Oct 30, 2012 at 02:01 AM
    I've been there before but never once thought about standing out where I live to ask for money, food or anything. Maybe I should of but it's not what I wanted to do. However, I have gave money to people that do take the risk.
  • by Spring45 Location: Lansing on Oct 29, 2012 at 09:55 PM
    The young able bodied strong looking guy who stands on the 127 exit at Lake Lansing Rd. has been on many corners. This is his most recent spot. His name is Jason. We (my fiance and I) offered him a job ($10 an hr.) more than once. We were supposed to pick him up, no show and didn't answer the phone or call us back. Gave him a 2nd chance - no show. His sign says 2 kids. Through someone who knows him we found out he doesn't have any kids (that live with him anyways) but he has an addiction. While I sympathize with people caught in that hell, he really makes me angry. There are people out there in real need, however he is not one of them. Last night in QD I had a conversation with gentleman who heard him bragging that he makes $200 to $300 a day. That makes me sick that he is making more of the kindheartedness of others than someone working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job. I would rather give money to the guitar man or give a tip to the people WORKING at a crappy job at any fast food joint. As a widow with 3 kids, I have had hard times. Instead of standing on a corner, I pounded the pavement. I have a lot of respect for anyone that takes that McD's job because it's the first one to come along.
  • by stephanie DuWig Location: lansing,mi on Oct 29, 2012 at 09:34 PM
    I have been watching these people for months going into over a year. There is one that looks like a drug addicted female. Skinny as a skeleton that has been claiming to be pregnant for all this time. Another claims he has 5 kids to feed(What about food stamps etc.?)On 1 area(Pennsylvania-Sth. Cedar) there is a team of 3 to 4 that put in shifts every day. Another couple with a gigantic german shepherd dog(How much does it cost to feed him?)There needs to be laws to stop this. What does the word fraud and misrepresentation mean if these panhandlers keep working their racquets?
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