Panhandling is a growing problem in East St. Louis, especially in the business corridor at 25th and State streets, and a member of the City Council wants police to do more about it.
City Councilman Roy Mosley Sr., president pro-tem, said he is tired of being accosted by panhandlers begging for money when he’s attempting to support the businesses in his city.
“I can go to Cleveland, Tampa, Florida, or even O’Fallon and Fairview Heights to visit my daughters, and I don’t see this kind of thing,” Mosley said. “The panhandlers know that the police department and the people who live here will tolerate this. You can go into a store in other communities, come out and walk (without being accosted).
“But, you come to East St. Louis and before you can get to the door, someone is in your face begging for a dollar, your change or saying they want you to help them buy some food. And, most of the time they are not planning to buy food,” Mosley said.
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Mosely said he fears the economic consequences as well as for people’s safety.
“I am worried that people will shop elsewhere, and we will lose their business. We cannot afford for this to happen. I want the police to stop ignoring it and get these people off the streets,” Mosley said.
Police Chief Michael Hubbard said the city has a police officer assigned to the downtown area to do police checks.
“The officers who do the business checks have established a rapport with the business owners. We have a situation where we run them (panhandlers) off the street and put them on jail, but we can only hold them so long. When they get out, they go right back there. It’s a revolving door. We are looking at other ways to address the situation,” Hubbard said.
A News-Democrat reporter walked around the business corridor recently and saw several panhandlers approaching customers. Some people gave them money; others shook their head or said “no” in a loud voice.
One business owner, David Vuong, said panhandlers are always standing in front of his business, and it’s annoying to his customers. He said some of them even come inside of the store begging for money.
“Some customers don’t want to have to deal with this, and they should not have to. Some customers are afraid to come in and out because of the panhandling,” said Vuong, who asked that his business not be identified for safety reasons.
I am worried that people will shop elsewhere, and we will lose their business. We cannot afford for this to happen. I want the police to stop ignoring it and get these people off the streets.
East St. Louis Councilman Roy Mosley
Vuong said some of the panhandlers don’t even appear to need the money.
“I am tired of kicking them off of the parking lot. They just keep coming back. You get used to it, so you let them be out there. The cops aren’t doing anything, so why risk my life?” Vuong said.
Mosley said he has watched as police cars roll past the businesses and ignore the panhandlers as they approach people getting out of their cars or on and off buses. He said this is an everyday occurrence.
An employee at one business, who asked not to be identified, said the panhandlers are aggressive. They gather outside on her parking lot begging. She said some of the customers tell them to get a job or say they do not have any money for them. She called the situation “annoying.”
Resident Tanya Griffin said generally it is the same people. “You can go into Walgreens and come out, and they are there. They have security in the store. They step out and run them off, and they come back,” Griffin said.
Griffin said she’s never felt threatened by any of the panhandlers, “But you never know.”
Griffin said she has seen police patrolling the area, and when they come around, the panhandlers run off.
“They know them,” Griffin said of the police.
Griffin said she believes that most of them have a drug or alcohol problem and no job.
Another resident, Ruben Byrd, when asked whether he felt there was a panhandling problem in East St. Louis, said, “Hell yeah. Look around. They are everywhere. It’s an everyday thing.”
Byrd said it’s annoying, but he added, “I know where they are coming from.”
“They are hungry, and they don’t have a job or any education.” Byrd said he gives some of them money when he can.
Hubbard said he is looking at increasing the number of officers patrolling the area. But he pointed out that places like Belleville, Fairview Heights and O’Fallon have a larger tax base and can hire more police officers.
“They simply have more resources,” the chief said.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503