Growing concerns over panhandlers in Jefferson County

A panhandler on Lakeshore Drive near the turn lane for the Highway 280 East on-ramp. (

Panhandling is illegal. And, according to Birmingham's City Action Partnership, most panhandlers are not homeless and most homeless are not panhandlers.

John Wallace was standing on the I-459 off-ramp at Highway 280 early Wednesday afternoon.He tells me that he and his wife have been living under the highway bridge for the last three weeks. The next morning, Wallace and the woman were gone. Instead, a new man stood in the same spot. Take a trip down Highway 280 to the Lakeshore exit, you'll find more panhandlers.

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A man sits on a guardrail next to the Highway 280 East on-ramp turn lane off of Lakeshore Drive. (

Tony Cooper is executive director of the Jimmie Hale Mission, an organization aimed at getting homeless men off the street and their lives on track.

"We are a giving, caring community, and I think they are taking advantage of that," says Cooper. Cooper says, giving money to panhandlers doesn't help. "If I'm doing something for you that you can do for yourself, then I'm contributing to your irresponsibility," says Cooper. "Are these people needing assistance, yes. Is money the answer for that, probably no."

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Another man sits on a Lakeshore Drive guardrail near Brookwood Mall. (

Cooper says if kind souls try to offer real help, like food or work, panhandlers often reject them. "Giving money is for the vast majority of the time is just not helping them. And the panhandlers, for most of them, it's a scam. And they are taking advantage of your generosity and compassion," says Cooper.Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian says spotting the scammers isn't difficult. "They're very aggressive. They get into traffic, impede it. Knock on windows. That's the ones we get calls on and that's the ones we want to get calls on," says Christian.

Christian says that if any panhandler becomes aggressive or verbally assaults a driver contact authorities.

Chief Christian says some of these panhandlers have outstanding warrants, with criminal history of drug charges, robbery even attempted murder.

"We warn them, and if they continue then we arrest them for loitering. If they truly need some help, a roof and a couple of meals isn't so bad. But if they're scammers, then jail is where they ought to be anyway," says Christian.Cooper offers a message with which many others agree. "I wish these people would invest the time that they're putting out here panhandling. I wish they would put the time in themselves, in getting in a program like ours where they can better themselves and have more of a future," says Cooper.

The City Action Partnership agrees with Tony Cooper.{} Giving panhandlers money may simply support an addiction.{} They say you should say "no" and drive or walk on.

Also to notice what the panhandler is wearing, where he is and then give this information to police.

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