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Aggressive panhandlers in Joplin - KOAM TV 7

Aggressive panhandlers in Joplin

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Whether it is a crowded intersection or an isolated parking lot, getting approached by panhandlers can turn dangerous if they are being too aggressive in asking for money.
Most panhandlers can be recognized by a cardboard sign, but others are less visible and can approach you when you least expect it.  
"I just give them money whenever they need some money because you never know, maybe they are in need or maybe not, but who are we to judge them?" said Joplin resident Rudy Roearte.
But for some, it's more than an extra dime.  It's a full-time job.
"People tell me to get a job and I say I've got a job,'" said panhandler Gene Ray.  "This is hard work, it's hard work being out here on the streets. It is a hard job and it's not my job, it's my survival."
Ray says he is not an aggressive panhandler.
"If somebody wants to give, they'll give," he said.  "If they don't, well thank you anyway."
Ray says others can be aggressive though and more likely to be scam artists.
"That ruins it for the people that really need it," he said.
"Sometimes panhandlers do get aggressive and they even tend to follow our employees out to their cars on lunch breaks or when they're getting of work," said Sarah Burton, employee at Cell Phone Medics in downtown Joplin.  "It has become an increasing issue lately."
The Joplin Police Department advises people to stay inside their vehicles if they feel uncomfortable.
"If you are on the way to the building and are being approached, if they're making you uncomfortable, maybe increase your speed and tell them to get away from you, be loud with that too so others can hear," said Corporal Dan Haskins with the Joplin Police Department.
It is legal for street panhandlers to stand on the sidewalk, but when they try to cross the street and stand on the medians, that is against the law.
"Our concern is the safety, making sure we're not getting anybody hurt out there as well as not backing up traffic," Haskins said.  "Our focus is roadway safety as well as personal safety for everybody out there."
Haskins says individuals should not feel intimidated or forced into giving money.  Rather, it should be of their free will.
Others recommend donating to a local organization or church and referring panhandlers to seek help there.
"If a person is so desperate to sit on a corner or approach somebody, they are not out to help themselves necessarily because we do have programs in the area," Burton said.
Joplin Police say if you have told someone that you do not wish to give money and the solicitor continues to follow you or ask for money, notify authorities for assistance.
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