BOISE -- As we approach Thanksgiving and Black Friday, we also embark on the holiday shopping season.
That also means, you are likely to see more panhandlers out and about on Boise’s street corners looking for some extra cash.
“I think panhandling is one way that people who have needs try to get their needs met,” said Reverend Bill Roscoe the Executive Director of the Boise Rescue Mission.
Roscoe has been dedicated to helping the homeless in the Treasure Valley for years and has always been very passionate about not giving money to panhandlers.
“I don't see any reason, any good reason, for someone to be standing on a corner with a sign asking me to give them my money when in fact there are a lot of resources in town that they can go to and find help,” said Roscoe.
At the Boise Rescue Mission they do not allow their residents living in their shelters to panhandle. Roscoe said for just the $2 that you might hand a panhandler, you can provide a hot meal at the mission.
The Rescue Mission serves about 950 hot meals a day. They provide a bed, a shower and case management at the shelter. With all those resources available, Roscoe believes some panhandlers are out to scam.
“My staff would say with certainty that some of the people panhandling today in the city of Boise are not homeless people, and they are out there collecting free money that they don't have to pay taxes on or account for in any way and then they use that money for whatever they will,” said Roscoe.
So KTVB decided to take our cameras undercover to find out just how lucrative panhandling is and why people choose to do it.
We didn’t accept anybody’s money, but we learned that all it takes is some cardboard, a black marker and a busy street corner. Very easily KTVB photographer Adam Worthington transformed himself into a panhandler.
Panhandling is a personal choice as well as a personal right and for someone like Cody Spears, it seems to work and quite well.
Worthington met Spears on a rainy day in mid November while standing out on 15th Street -- a place where many drivers encounter panhandlers. We learned there is a perfectly good reason for that, it’s a busy area, and we captured their interaction on camera.
It seems Spears was watching Worthington for over 20 minutes before he decided to come over and talk to him.
“I have been sitting here watching the corner waiting to come out here,” Spears said.
Spears told Worthington that panhandlers work in a 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off schedule.
“Alright that's cool,” said Worthington. “I'll go somewhere else.”
“We have been doing this for two years," said Spears. "Last year we took my baby through the snow in a baby buggy and everything.”
After some time of discussion we learned that Spears has a wife and a baby that he admits he's brought along to panhandle.
We also spotted Spears get out of an SUV, a Dodge Durango, sitting across the street. However, Spears said his family lives at the Interfaith Sanctuary, a shelter in Boise that does not allow their residents to panhandle.
Spears also told Worthington about the world of panhandling. He knows the law and knows not to step off the corner into the street because that could bring him a $61 citation from police.
He knows how and when to make eye contact and even what to write on his sign.
“You just keep it simple, and you keep your signs so they can read it,” Spears told Worthington.
Spears said he has a reason to panhandle because he is on disability and can’t find a job in this economy.
“It’s the families that have to do it, and this is how I raise my family and take care of my needs every day,” said Spears.
When we asked him how much money he has made while panhandling, he told us over $100 in one day. He also said some days it’s not as lucrative, perhaps just $20.
Roscoe knows there are options out there for those who are living homeless. He advises people to investigate the community's resources and nonprofit agencies to give wiser when helping the homeless.
Roscoe said there are always going to be people trying to take advantage of the generosity of others.
“It’s just a scam, and you can’t know that you can see somebody and they can look really legitimate. They can put on a good line of what’s wrong in my life,” explained Roscoe. “You can hand them your money and drive away, and they are going to go spend that money on whatever they will. They may have a place to live they may be collecting Social Security or some kind of benefit, and you just don’t know.”
During our experiment Worthington did not have many people roll down their windows and give him money, although there was a few that did.
However, when we witnessed Spears get car after car to hand him money, teaching us that he really knows what he is doing when it comes to begging for money.
Meantime, Roscoe encourages people to get on their website and print off meal vouchers for free here instead of giving panhandlers money, give them a free meal and a place to stay at a local shelter where help is available.