Panhandlers say "End Panhandling Now" van works, but needs more seats

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Organizers of Lexington's "End Panhandling Now" van say panhandling has decreased in the city by 88 percent since the program started in April.

Steve Polston, director of New Life Day Center and the van program, said the program works because the word is out that the panhandlers can work. "When we started doing this in April, it drove down the wages they were getting on the street. The publicity from it, the public looked at it and said, 'Hey, they've got jobs. Why should we be doling out the window as much,'" he said. "So that went down from our estimates from $70 a day was a fairly typical take by a panhandler, down to $10 to $15 a day. So when you drove the wages down, a great bulk of them left town."

"It used to be homeless friendly. Now, they don't like homeless in this city no more," 22-year-old Marcus Deville told WKYT's Miranda Combs. Deville is homeless, but he's been riding the van for a couple of months now, and become a regular. "I was getting arrested and getting a lot of citations for begging and panhandling," he recalled. "And then they started talking about this panhandling van. One morning I was flying my sign, and they asked me if I wanted to work."

Deville said the panhandling van has changed the city's mood toward the homeless. "It makes people look at us differently. They tell us, 'Why you all not on a work van?' Well, the van only has like 12 spots!" He went on, "There's still people left out there that wasn't able to get on the van and still need to survive."

Erol Gill is homeless, too. He's been a regular on the van but said he still panhandles. "I'm not going to lie, I still panhandle. But not as much," he said. "We do want to work. But sometimes the work may not be, you know, it's only like temp jobs. A lot of us are just misplaced, unfortunate at the moment."

Polston said there are 22 places the program has identified for being regular spots for panhandlers. Those 22 areas are where the van stops on the mornings it runs. During counts conducted when the van first started in April, Polston said they would see 125 to 150 panhandlers. Now, he said they only count 12 to 15.

Those that ride the van get $9 an hour and $8 for lunch. Polston said right now the van runs twice a week, costing the city about $50,000 every six months. He said he'd like for the program to become a public/private partnership.

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