SPECIAL REPORT: South Lansing Panhandling Group

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LANSING -- They are dotting intersections across South Lansing.

Many of them are no doubt in great need.

But some of those panhandlers, a News 10 report reveals, are apparently running an operation of sorts, teaming up to maximize profits.

"Shock. Discontent," says South Lansing shop owner Able Jasman, who sees the panhandlers every day. "Like I said, it makes me question the validity of who's homeless? Who's not?

Jasman owns a shop near Edgewood Plaza. He says a couple of panhandlers came into his store about a month ago to order some food.

He couldn't believe what happened next.

"They started pulling money out of each pocket, both the guy and the girl," he says. "And then they started talking about going over to Meijer and buying a flat-screen TV, a brand-new flat-screen TV. And that's where I thought, 'Wait, where's the validity?'"

Jasman says he's thinking of moving his shop, fearing customers are being turned away by aggressive panhandlers.

So we decided to take a closer look and camped out at one of these intersections -- Cedar Street and Edgewood Boulevard.

At 6:15 in the evening, an SUV pulled up, and several of the panhandlers piled inside. We followed that SUV, as it stopped to let each person off at his or her home.

Several days later, we approached one of the panhandlers to ask about it.

One man said he does have a home but simply doesn't have enough money to stay afloat.

"I got a place. I'm not homeless," he said. "I just need a job. So I come down here and try to find work. I got two kids."

His sign reads, "Down on my luck. Need work."

Another woman we spoke to said she is not part of that group. She works the corner of Pennsylvania and the I-96 on-ramp with her friend and boyfriend, and admits it can be a lucrative venture.

"Friday, Saturday and Sunday, me and her made $500 standing right there for nine hours a day," she said.

We asked if she ever uses the money for drugs.

"No, I don't do drugs," she responded. "You can test me anytime you want. Do I look like I do drugs? I'm almost 300 pounds.

"We stand there to pay our room. That's how we survive. If it wasn't for the people out here giving us money, I don't know what we would do."

She lives in a Holt motel, paying $50 a day for the room. She admitted neither she nor her boyfriend is looking for work, as they both suffer from disabilities.

Others worry at least some of the panhandlers are scamming people.

"I think it's unfair, because sometimes people are taking advantage of people's good will," says Mark Criss, director of City Rescue Mission, a Lansing-based homeless charity.

He says most panhandlers aren't operating a scam. Many are in desperate need, some suffering from crippling mental illness. But he says they can make $200-$300 a day -- and giving them that cash might be the worst thing you can do.

"It's probably the majority of those that are seeking to fulfill that daily need for drugs or alcohol," he says.

"Our cost per meal is probably around $2, under $2, so your couple of dollars would've fed at least one person, and usually probably more than that."

Criss recommends dropping off water or food to panhandlers, and forwarding them to shelters like City Rescue, Advent House Ministries, Open House Ministry and Volunteers of America (links are below).

Otherwise, you could be, as he puts it, loving them to death.

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