Part 3 of Who's Behind the Sign? 15 Finds Out looks into Fort Wayne's panhandling laws. Hear if police and city lawmakers think something needs to change to slow this growing trend.
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - Panhandling has become a way of life for a small, but growing population around Fort Wayne. When driving past a panhandler, many may wonder if they should give or just drive on by.
As a follow-up to a two-month investigation into panhandling, NewsChannel 15 went looking for opinions on how the community should respond to the person behind the sign. While at the Rescue Mission, 15 Finds Out discovered firsthand experiences from those dealing with the life of the panhandler.
On Monday , an investigation revealed complex people who may be using donations in a way that givers didn't expect.
Ken Wardley knows a thing or two about the panhandling lifestyle. He says in the past, he's asked for change here and there, but had more friends that were deep into panhandling.
"[I] couldn't get away from drugs, couldn't stop drinking and trying to live this lifestyle, and going to prison helped me to flush out and get clean," Wardley said.
Wardley is recently out of jail and stays in the Rescue Mission. He said the majority of the time, there's more than meets the eye with panhandlers.
When asked about his panhandler community, he thinks seven times out of 10, the person behind the sign is going to buy alcohol or drugs with donation money.
"That doesn't negate their need," Wardley explained. "First comes the tragedies in your life…and then comes depression. Then comes the drugs. Then comes the need to panhandle to accommodate your need for the drugs. It's a vicious cycle."
Sharon Gerig is the Lifehouse Coordinator for the Rescue Mission. She strongly discourages giving money to panhandlers.
"Those who are saying they're seeking funds, you don't know how they're going to spend it," Gerig said. "One of the things we don't want to do is encourage individuals in their addiction issues. We want to make sure someone's improving their life, making their life better, and that they're actually focusing on their actual needs and not their wants."
It's a story all too familiar to Wardley, who says tragedy struck after his friend received donations panhandling.
"He died in the river out here because he had panhandled that night, he had got his drugs and characters that weren't really good for him," Wardley said. "Somehow he just ended up sleeping in the river."
15 Finds Out spotted many uncomfortable drivers around panhandlers. Gerig said folks can control those guilty or negative feelings with a prepared response. She encourages drivers to offer food, direct them to an area organization, or simply pay attention to them.
"If you've provided them with an avenue to help get those needs met and you continue to see them the next week or two weeks out there, then that can become very quickly an answer [on] whether or not they've followed through or whether or not they have a true need," Gerig said.
Wardley thinks positive attention toward a panhandler is the first step toward breaking a tragic cycle.
"It sounds silly, but some people need you to take them by the hand and walk with them because they don't have what it takes to do it by themselves," Wardley said. "We haven't all had parents in our lives. We haven't all had guidance. We haven't all had positive structure in our lives to usher us on to something good. Some people do need you to take them by the hand."
Recommended resources for helping panhandlers:
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