Panhandling an ongoing problem in Big Country

Panhandling has been a growing issue since legislation in Abilene allows indigent, or very low income people, to be released from arrest despite their actions.

"The people that are doing it don't actually need what they think they need," said Jean Butler, Executive Director of United Methodist Service Center and Food Pantry.

Since January 1st of 2016, Abilene has witnessed 155 citations for forms of solicitation.

"Let me assure you that the people that are standing and soliciting from the roadway absolutely know it is against the law because they've been contacted by the police department over and over and over," said Stan Standridge, Abilene Chief of Police.

25 of those citations are related to aggressive panhandling situations.

"You would look at 25 and say that's not a high number unless you're one of those 25 people who were the victims of the aggressive panhandling," said Standridge. "We have spoken to several (people) this week and they were scared of these people."

Even though panhandling is against the law, the punishment indigent,  or low income people, could face may not be enough motivation to stop.

"If we arrest a person, lets say for some type of solicitation, and that person is indigent, and there is no way that they can pay the associated fines, then by law we are required to release them," said Standridge.

Panhandling can happen anywhere, such as in streets, in front of stores, and outside of food pantries.

"The panhandling I've seen is one person came to the food pantry and went to a young woman in her pickup truck and tried to talk her out of money," said Butler. "He saw some coins in her pickup truck and she gave him some of those and he left, and I've never seen him since and I hope I never do."

Panhandling is considered protected by the 1st Amendment.

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