Panhandling Profits: Solicitors risk jail for a payout

A couple of ones here, a five dollar bill there, the men said cash donations can add up but panhandling comes with risk. Where people ask for money could land you behind bars.

BEAUMONT - The City of Vidor is taking a strong stance against panhandling, particularly at businesses.

Thanks to a new ordinance, if a business owner registers with the city or posts "no soliciting" signs, the owner does not have to be present for law enforcement to take action against a panhandler.

If you've seen panhandlers, you might wonder how much money they pull in.

12News spoke with two men in Beaumont who had signs asking for help.

A couple of ones here, a five dollar bill there, the men said cash donations can add up but panhandling comes with risk. Where people ask for money could land you behind bars.

"This is about the lowest I've ever been in my life," said Shawn Boyd. "Hopefully it's coming up from here."

Boyd has fallen on tough times. With no job, he's asking Southeast Texans for help. With all of his belongings in two backpacks and a handwritten, cardboard sign, you won't see him on the street corner. He's picked a spot at a popular hardware store and wants to be clear: he's ready to earn your help.

"A lot of the people that you see out here are just looking for the handout. I'm not looking for the handout. I'm looking for the job," said Boyd. "And to me that makes a difference."

While Boyd isn't your typical panhandler, he says some people do offer money. On a good day, that will add up to about 30 bucks.

Roughly three miles away, a group of transients work together to survive.

"I've been through a lot of struggles and a lot of problems and lost faith but I've gained it back," said Lisa Paige.

The homeless woman says George Lelux usually volunteers to "fly the sign" so she won't be arrested. Lelux says he has been homeless since 1993.

"It's hard when you're out here on the streets. Homeless people, they don't have nothing," said Lelux. "Salvation Army wants to charge you $10 a night. Well you can't be standing here with a cardboard sign on the corner trying to get $10."

So how much money can someone make using a simple sign?

For Lelux, he says location is key.

"I'd have to think about Dowlen," said Lelux. "I was over on Dowlen when my wife was alive and that's been awhile back but when Misty was alive, we used to make like $120, $150 a day."

Lelux says he faces jail time for being on the street asking for money.

"You can look at my record... The cops, I mean he rode by me earlier and I was flying the sign 'hey if I catch you soliciting I'll take your butt to jail.'"

12News did take a look at Lelux's record. He's been arrested for criminal trespassing alone seven times since 2013. He spent anywhere from 10 to 60 days in jail for the charges.

Beaumont police explain there is a city ordinance prohibiting solicitation near a roadway.

There's also a state law about begging on the street.

"Those laws are put in place for several different reasons," said Beaumont Police Officer Haley Morrow. "One of those is obviously going to be safety, You're next to a busy road distracting drivers and things of that nature."

Last year BPD received 995 calls reporting panhandling. 122 were arrested for soliciting from a roadway.

So far this year, they are ahead of last year's pace there have been 401 calls with 69 arrests.

Officers say they warn panhandlers first, explaining the laws. If they get called out again, a "Class C" citation is issued which comes with a fine.

If someone is found asking for money after that, officers will place them under arrest.

When panhandlers are on private property in Beaumont, such as at a shopping center, the business owner has to file a complaint about criminal trespass.

Organizations looking to fundraise have to get a permit from the city.

Some of the stipulations include being over 18, wearing a reflective vest and paying the permit fee.

Beyond the legal aspect is the morality question. We have all pulled up to the top light and battled over whether we should or shouldn't give.

Last month, Pope Francis weighed in, saying: "It should be done with respect and compassion because 'tossing money and not looking in [their] eyes is not a Christian' way of behaving."

A pastor with the Good News Rescue Mission says Southeast Texans wanting to help out should remember that giving money to panhandlers is a band-aid to a long-term problem.

Officer Morrow says there are options for those who have fallen on hard times.

"We have many resources out in town that can help people who are down, whether its they're homeless, they can't find a job, we have the Texas Workforce Solutions center and things like that," said Morrow. "If people are needing help, of course we want to help them and point them in the right direction."

Paige says she's experienced kindness from many Southeast Texans.

"I want to thank all the people that's helped me out here I'm very thankful that y'all've brought me back up and gave me my faith back up," said Paige. "Thank y'all."

If you need to report panhandling you can call 311 or your police station's non-emergency number.

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