PADUCAH — You may be noticing more panhandlers in Paducah, often off the Interstate 24 exits or near Kentucky Oaks Mall.
In 2017, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that panhandling is legal, but Paducah does have an ordinance that limits how people can do it. Paducah’s city ordinance states people are allowed to ask for money with signs or through other means, but they can’t do it on private property.
Also, people can’t beg for money from a person driving a car or in traffic. There are a few other restrictions, but it is a fine line between what is fine and what is a finable offense.
Sgt. Chris Baxter has been patrolling the streets of Paducah for 12 years. “We’ve probably had more than usual. There has been an uptick in the number of calls,” he said. Baxter said several times a week, police are called out to check on panhandlers.
First thing you may wonder: Does this person need help? Shirley Barlow with River City Mission, a local homeless shelter, said not always.
“Some just don’t want to work,” she said. “We had one come here, and he was a panhandler but he was a professional panhandler. He had a decent income, and saw no reason to have a job.”
For 30 years, she has helped the homeless in Paducah. Other than feeding them, she also helps them get jobs. “We’ve just had an influx of people. Men as well as families,” she said. “Every family, cottage, everything is full.”
Just as you may have noticed more people begging, she has more people in there eating. “To my knowledge, we haven’t got anyone panhandling,” Barlow said.
So, if they don’t need help, what can you do about it? Well, pandhandlers are protected by the freedom of speech. If a business can hold up a sign on the side of the street, then individuals can hold up a sign saying whatever they want.
Police can give pandhandlers tickets, but not for panhandling. “If they believe it is causing a traffic hazard, they should call,” Baxter said. “If people feel compelled to give money, there are plenty of organizations out there.”
As warm weather sticks around for a few more months, Baxter expects the pandhandlers to stick around, too.
There wouldn’t be panhandling if people weren’t giving money. If you still want to help, you can keep food and water in your car to give them. Also, know where they can go for food and shelter, and direct them to those places.
River City Mission is at 1466 Bechtold Road in Paducah. You ca call the mission at 270-442-7921.
You can find out more about Paducah Cooperative Ministry and Fresh Start Village by calling Alexa Hammonds at 270-442-6795.