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Experts advise the best way to help Sioux Falls panhandlers

 Steven panhandles for money and food at East 10th and I-229 in Sioux Falls
Steven panhandles for money and food at East 10th and I-229 in Sioux Falls (KSFY)
Published: Jun. 23, 2020 at 5:35 PM CDT
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If you've been by major Sioux Falls intersections, you may have seen people holding signs, asking for food or money. We did some research today to find out what's legal, and what we can do to help.

55-year-old Steven is originally from Kansas City. With family frustrations, he decided to leave. Now his focus is getting the basics in life. He panhandles for food and something else.

"People are kind in Sioux Falls, very very kind," said Steven. "I have an alcohol problem."

He's grateful for the money and gives away a lot of the food because it won't keep in the summer sun. Formerly from Kansas City, he left because of relationship issues and made his way to Sioux Falls. Now his focus is getting food, by panhandling. His weathered, peeling skin reflects the hours he spends asking for money, sometimes from 7:00 am to 10:00 PM.

"Is this a lifestyle? No. I'm a certified chef," said Steven.

The people you see on the streets are not likely unemployed transients because of the pandemic. They're frequently locals, known to those in shelters.

Kari Benz is the Director of human services for Minnehaha and Lincoln counties. She sees kind-hearted motorists wanting to help.

"We probably have seen it more in the last few weeks because the weather is nice," said Benz. "Many times where I've driven by and I've seen people drop off food to people. My goodness, what a great community we live in."

A handout at the curbside may or may not be a good thing.

"Giving them money: I think the hard part is those we don't really know where that money sometimes goes," said Benz.

But there are many resources ready to help.

"It's just best to make donations to the programs that can support them provide them a lot of the empowerment, coaching, and guidance that they may need," said Benz.

And helping at the corner could be unsafe and even illegal according to Officer Sam Clemens at the Sioux Falls Police Department.

"Panhandling in and of itself is not illegal, so I mean we can't prohibit somebody from panhandling. The part where it becomes illegal is if they are getting money from cars and traffic and that includes cars stopped at red lights," said Clemens.

Another option to handing out money or food is to give them a pamphlet from the Helpline Center or from the county. It provides a list of resources for housing, food, clothing, and many other resources, along with a map where each outreach is located in the city. Benz says you can pick up a stack of them and hand them out to panhandlers who ask for help.

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