MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - They seem to be everywhere, all the time. At street corners and off the Loop in Midland, many times asking for help or spare change.
Panhandling isn't a new thing but it's something we've seen more of in the last couple of years. The City of Midland said they don't expect them to go away anytime soon. That left us wondering, what's the best way to handle panhandlers?
Midland has many "hot spots," almost every intersection along the Loop and even off the interstate on the south side of town. But everyone seems to agree, giving panhandlers money can actually hurt them. Groups that help the homeless said giving them food, water and even a friendly smile helps them the most.
The next time you pull off the interstate or stop at a busy intersection, there's a good chance you'll see someone holding a sign, asking for money.
Some are people we see all the time, others travel from city to city.
"It's tough because we shouldn't judge and we shouldn't assume but it is something that's out there and I don't think it's gonna go away," said Midland Mayor, Jerry Morales.
If panhandlers aren't going away, we should at least learn how to co-exist.
Evan Rogers is the founder of Church Under the Bridge, he said there's no way to know which panhandlers are homeless and which ones have alcohol or drug addictions, but we should treat them all the same.
"We never recommend giving money because we do not want to enable them," said Rogers. "So what we've come up with is we get a gallon zip-lock bag and we put beef jerky, water, crackers, a pack of bubblegum, socks, hygiene stuff and give it to them. That's something tangible that everybody can use."
The City of Midland said many of the panhandlers here are those who move frequently and stop at cities where the economy is doing well. Making it harder for the actual homeless to get help.
"There are some residents who are frustrated that panhandlers knock on the windows, get in front of the vehicles, get on private property, litter, I've heard all of those kind of comments," said Morales. "So not all panhandlers are good, we know that. It's tough sometimes, who really needs it and who doesn't."
Rogers said he often spends time with panhandlers and hears people scream out, "Go get a job," but it's not that easy.
"You need a physical address to get an ID and to get that ID you need another form of ID to verify who you are. Well if you don't have a birth certificate or a social, which most guys on the street don't, it's kind of like a spiderweb," said Rogers. "Every time these guys move and try to make a better decision, it gets worse, like they just feel stuck. So they finally go, 'This is who I am.' But they've heard it all on the street, and really they've become callus to it, but we're all human and regardless of how callus you get to it, it still affects someone in some way."
The homeless population in Midland is at about 300, but many of those people choose not to panhandle and instead keep a low profile. Sometimes what many forget is a simple greeting can turn someone's day or life around.
"Just a smile or to look them in the eye and just nod, saying it's going to be okay and maybe things will get better soon goes a long way," said Morales.
"The best thing that anybody can ever do is, whether you give them anything, is to recognize that they're a human being," said Rogers. "I ran into a gentleman not too long ago who he was sitting outside of Stripes convenience store and he said he was sitting there for three days and not one person stopped, just to even say hi. So when I stopped and said, 'Hey, I'm Evan with Church Under The Bridge, what's your name?' He was baffled because for the first time in three days someone treated him like a human."
Panhandlers getting in the street, knocking on windows and littering are some of the problems you heard about. On Wednesday night, we'll bring you part two of this special report, there you'll hear what Midland is doing to address the panhandling issue and keep it under control.