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Panhandling: why there is an increase in panhandlers

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Have you noticed there seems to be more panhandlers on city streets? It's a common site just off freeway exit ramps, waiting to collect money from kindhearted drivers.

For some of the men and women who seemingly have fallen on hard times, they're able to rake in big bucks in an hour or two.

FOX 10 looks into why old laws meant to curb panhandling don't work.

You see them around town, on street corners, or just off the freeway. "I give money when people ask for it," said a young man.

Maybe you do too, hoping it's going toward a warm meal or something cool to drink.

"I really just don't give them money, but if I can offer a drink or food I will give them that, but I just won't give anybody money," said another driver.

They are in every part of the valley, crossing the street sometimes dangerously close to being hit. Popping out from the sidewalk just as you exit the freeway. But anti-panhandling laws on the books don't work anymore.

"The federal courts all across America and here in Arizona ruled that there's a first amendment protected right to beg in public, so that made our law unconstitutional," said Jon Kavanaugh.

Arizona lawmaker Jon Kavanaugh says we are already seeing the effects of that ruling, more panhandlers. 

They become more emboldened, more brazen, they get more in people's faces, and they create a climate where people don't want to go into urban areas where they see this," he said.

One panhandler chases after a car and another gives a hand signal to drivers who don't offer some cash.

Kavanaugh tried to pass a new law to stem the flow of street beggars.

"Aggressive panhandling, that can be outlawed, that's what my bill would have done. 

Kavanaugh's legislation passed, but the Governor didn't sign it into law. 

"The Governor claimed that it was an issue of local concern and not a statewide concern, I respectfully disagree," said Kavanaugh.

"This is one of the reasons why you had a massive flight from New York City in the 70's and 80's because of all these little indecencies, these little annoyances piled up," he said.

Monica and her husband are panhandlers. She knows not everyone is happy to see her.

"People may not say it, but I know that they're thinking... I myself have said it, why aren't they working," said Monica.

She said people are more giving in the morning.

"People are more giving on their way to work rather than their way home because by the time their day is over they're so mad and want to get home," she said.

She said her money went to food or cigarettes. 

David, a former panhandler, said most people working the streets are using the cash to feed a habit.

"Did two prison stints for drugs... I've been clean for four years," said David.

David made enough to feed a drug habit. "When I was out here doing it, I've had people give me $50 to $100 bills, you know.... couple hundred bucks," he said.

There's a lot of money to be made panhandling.

"And there were times I was working to get food, but there are many places around the city to get food boxes or get fed. Most of the time I was working for something I shouldn't have been doing," said David.

"Giving money to somebody where you're gonna feed their drug habit, where you're gonna keep them from going to seek true help doesn't help them. You are just prolonging their misery, and in the end, hopefully they'll reform and get true help," said Kavanaugh.

Clean and sober David now sponsors others who are getting their lives on track; he's glad he doesn't have to work the streets anymore.

"I don't regret anything I've done, but today I learn from it, and I don't want to go back here," said David.
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