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Redirecting generosity to help panhandlers

Reprinted from The Connection, January 2018 issue

Editor’s note: In light of the recent activity of panhandlers seen in and around the King Soopers shopping center, as well as the many conversations taking place on various social media platforms, The Connection is reprinting an article that ran in January 2018 dealing with the same topic. The article has been updated to reflect current information.

Whether called a “drifter,” “beggar,” “transient,” or “panhandler,” walking past anyone asking for money can be awkward. People are sympathetic, but they may also be embarrassed by the public request. Regardless if people look away and ignore the person or if they give money, it can be unsettling, especially when it happens close to home. The Castle Pines community is generous and open to helping those in need, but with an increase in the number of people begging, it is difficult to know if giving money, which feels like the right behavior, is perhaps the wrong response.

Heartstrings are increasingly tugged when families, including children and pets, are outside of local businesses. With stories that are often convoluted and make little sense, it is hard to tell if these people are genuinely in need or if they are scamming altruistic souls. Taking a responsible and compassionate approach is the best way to handle the situation, which, in this instance, means contacting the non-emergency number of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO).

Throughout Douglas County, the DCSO receives calls about panhandlers and homeless people. DCSO deputies assigned to Castle Pines note that transients know to stop in this community because residents give them money and pay for food.

Public Information Officer Lauren Lekander explained that when the DCSO receives a call, officers respond to the area in an attempt to locate the subject. If found, deputies will ask the person questions, such as where are they from, where are they going, what are they doing here, etc., all while ascertaining the mental status of the person. Depending upon the circumstances, the person may be offered a ride to where they are going. If a person indicates an interest in resources or help, there are ways the DCSO can assist. As long as no illegal activity is happening, the DCSO will typically leave them alone. If businesses and citizens keep calling, however, the individual(s) may be asked to move. Of course, if there is any illegal activity, the person may be cited or arrested.

“Officers can provide panhandlers with resources; however, resources are not always offered,” said Lekander. “Oftentimes a person says they are just on their way from one location to another and stopped for a break. If they do not appear to be in need of assistance or medical attention, it is not typically forced on them.”

It is important to note that asking for money or panhandling is a violation of a county ordinance; however, homelessness in itself is not a crime.

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