Provo ramps up professional panhandling prevention

Posted at 4:51 PM, May 22, 2013

PROVO, Utah – People in Provo said panhandlers were uncommon in the city up until the past few years, and some are now concerned about the problem of professional panhandlers.

Panhandling is legal, but Lt. Matt Siufanua, Provo Police Department, said some of the people begging for change are actually part of a complex system.

“Not all of them, but there are some groups out there that are very organized, and they assign where they're gonna go, how long they're gonna be there, and then when they get together they pool their money,” he said.

Police said Center Street, with its frequent stops and 15 mph speed limit, is an inviting place to panhandle, but they said they are trying to prevent the activity.

“We're doing all we can do right now,” Siufanua said.

Provo passed a law last year that prohibits people from walking into lanes of traffic to collect money, but panhandling still takes place, and officials with the mayor’s office said complaints keep coming in.

The city put up signs three months ago that encourage people to donate to organizations that help the needy rather than individuals out on the streets.

“On our signs we give a number, a website where people can actually donate,” Siufanua said.

One panhandler who spoke to Fox 13 said he panhandles regularly, but he said he isn’t part of an organized effort.

“Last night I slept on a bench cause yesterday wasn't a good day,” the man said.

The man said raising money for a hotel room is always his first goal, but he admits he has a problem.

“I ain't gonna lie to you, I am an alcoholic, you know,” the man said.

Siufanua said their crackdown on panhandling isn’t meant to hurt those in need, but instead to help them and others.

“We recognize that there are those in the community who need help from all of us,” he said. “And if we could get any message out to the public it's to send the help in the right direction, which is Food and Care Coalition, the United Way and those types of organizations that know how to reach out and help people.”