Cleveland, OH. - Warm weather and sunny skies in Cleveland catalyzes motorists to hit the roads and people to travel by foot. Simultaneously, while people enjoy their drive and daily walk, they are bothered by people begging for money and jumping in front of cars asking for assistance. The individuals appear to be either homeless or panhandlers. Residents report that this behavior is intimidating to some motorists and walkers. Chelle Renee, a frequent motorist who travels the Lee/McCracken freeway exit, asked, "The homeless at the freeway exit on Lee Rd and McCracken, are they homeless or part of a scam?"
In February 2020, Cleveland Councilman Brian Kazy concerned himself with the complaints from drivers and residents. They griped about beggars asking for money. Newsnet 5 covered the story. Kazy reported that the recent spike in highway ramp panhandling started shortly after Cleveland repealed its anti-panhandling law in 2017 after the ACLU filed a lawsuit stating the law criminalized poverty, according to Kazy.
Brown on Cleveland recently was asked to investigate this issue. Panhandling isn't safe for the motorist or the individual doing the begging. "I'd say it isn't good to look at. I feel like I see some of the same folks at different locations. It's more than Maple and Cleveland. It's Northfield; it's Ridge Road. These are the exits where I've seen some of the same people. That's what had me wondering if it's a network..." scoffed Renee.
Revisiting Kazy's 2020 interview, he reported that the Cleveland Police discovered that some panhandlers aren't homeless and are taking in up to $500 a day. "We discovered one man lives in Parma, works at a local casino, and then stands at West 150th and I-71 collecting cash," said Kazy
Some residents of Cleveland believe that some people are scamming drivers while others - use this as a means to survive. Dottie Smith of Cleveland said, "At times, the homeless can be intimidating, but this could be due to mental illness. The county and the city should work together to seek housing alternatives. They could invest in some empty school buildings and turn them into studio units to house this population. It is not their fault if they are homeless due to mental illness. The scammers are another story."
Steven Malanga wrote a 2008 commentary called The Plague of Professional Panhandling in the Dallas Morning News. Malanga argues that there is a difference between homelessness and panhandle. He further says that people's generosity encourages begging. Homelessness includes individuals or families who lack regular and adequate nighttime residence. Panhandlers are beggars who will coerce others to give them money. Malanga also reported that panhandlers say asking for a certain amount of cash lends credibility to pitches. "I need 43 more cents to get a cup of coffee," a panhandler will declare; some people will give precisely that much, while others will offer a dollar or more. "A panhandler could make 30 to 40,000 dollars a year, tax-free money," said Steve Baker of Urban Policy.
According to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Census Data, and the Department of Education's definition of homelessness, they estimate around 23,000 people, approximately 10 percent of those living in poverty, who experience homelessness every year in the county. Thirty-five percent of Cleveland residents live in poverty.
We reached out to Councilman Brian Kazy of the City of Cleveland. We inquired:
- Are you or did the Cleveland City Council seek more police present to deal with this issue?
- Did you follow up with presenting any new legislation?
- If not, why?
Councilman Kazy was unavailable to give feedback. We will update this article should Councilman Kazy respond.
Should motorists feel threatened and intimidated by panhandlers or the homeless, they can call their local police department for assistance.