Printed on: November 11, 2012

Panhandlers on the rise in I.F., Ammon

By Ruth Brown
rbrown@postregister.com

The number of people standing on street corners with cardboard signs has been on the rise in Ammon and Idaho Falls.

Despite that, people may be surprised to learn most panhandlers are local and aren't breaking the law.

"Throughout the summer the numbers stay consistent," Bonneville County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Edwards said. "Overall, I would say the numbers have picked up, because 10 years ago you would see one or two a summer and now you see three a day."

The most common spots for panhandlers are the corner of 17th Street and Hitt Road and outside the Ammon Walmart store.

So long as panhandlers aren't disturbing the peace, standing on private property or impeding traffic, they aren't breaking the law in Ammon.

Law enforcement officers only confront panhandlers when they are disturbing the peace, using inappropriate restrooms or stationing themselves on someone's property without permission, Edwards said.

Idaho Falls Police Sgt. Dave Frei said most of the panhandler complaints his department receives come from business owners.

And contrary to their hand-lettered signs, Frei said, many panhandlers are not homeless.

"My belief is this has just become a way of life," Frei said. "I think this has become a way to make tax-free money."

Idaho Falls Rescue Mission director David McKinney agreed that panhandling is on the increase.

Residents of the Ark, City of Refuge or Ruth House who are caught panhandling are asked to leave, McKinney said.

Panhandling is against the rules of the shelters.

United Way and City of Refuge officials recommend against giving money to a homeless person or panhandler. Instead, they suggest giving them information on ways to find help.

Handouts can be ordered through the United Way at 522-2674 or unitedway@unitedwayif.org.

Some panhandlers are begging for money in order to feed drug and alcohol addictions, Edwards said.

While some panhandlers work in groups, law enforcement officers do not believe they work together in an organized fashion.

Officers also were unable to estimate how much money a panhandler takes in during the course of a day.

Many of the panhandlers whom deputies encounter while patrolling are "regulars," Edwards said, estimating at least 70 percent are local.

"Very seldom do we get people who are just traveling through town," Edwards said. "... If they're going clear to Ammon, they're not just getting off the interstate."

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