Panhandling has long been an issue in Fort Worth – so much so that a couple years ago the city put up signs along roadways to discourage the practice. On Tuesday, city council took on the problem again.
Council members got a closer look at what police are doing to curb panhandling in their pre-council meeting Tuesday afternoon. They raised new concerns, especially about people begging for money in or near roadways, and they're asking for ideas about how to improve safety – both for people who are bothered by this and for the panhandlers themselves.
"Ten years ago it was occasional, five years ago it was a little more noticeable, in the last year it's just been rampant," said Judy Taylor, president of the Handley Neighborhood Association.
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Taylor doesn't like turning away, but for her it's a question of safety.
"I'm part of a community. We're 65 and above, many of us, and we are insecure with people coming up to us that we don't know, asking for things that we have," said Taylor.
She hates to see businesses leave, like one recently shuttered Wal-Mart near her home.
"We need a grocery store, we don't need trash," Taylor said, pointing to a pile of siding left outside the building.
She thinks panhandlers were part of the problem.
"Many people quit coming here because of the fact they didn't feel secure, they didn't feel protected,"said Taylor.
Now she wants stronger enforcement of the city's panhandling ban.
But some city leaders say the issue is not that simple.
"We don't want this to become a criminalization of people who are homeless and poor here," said Aubrey Thagard, director of Fort Worth's Neighborhood Services Department. "This is a much broader issue. You have to really start to look at the root causes of why these individuals are where they are."
Thagard said folks can always call police to report an aggressive panhandler, but the city is more focused on connecting those in need with services – shelter, food and counseling – to lead them off the streets altogether.
"This is very much a holistic, broad approach that we're taking here," said Thagard.
But it's an approach that, for some neighbors, needs to move faster.
"If it's not easy for them to be here, they won't be here," Taylor said. "But at this point it is easy."
The Fort Worth Police Department recently put together brochures with available resources to help the homeless and the city's main message written on the front, on a panhandler's sign: "Give me money and I may never get off the streets, give to organizations that can really help and it could save my life."
Expect more council discussion on this in the coming weeks.