People have long held strong feelings about panhandling. Some people choose to never give to a stranger on the street while others give when they see someone in need or a certain sign that tugs on their heartstrings. Either way, the debate over panhandling in Paris, Texas, has grown in recent months and locals are torn on the subject.
While homelessness is a real thing, some question the validity of some of the men and women they see on street corners. Perhaps, some have been “scammed” by someone claiming to be homeless while others know there are resources available and vow to help those in need.
Local veteran Jeremy Ellis, who completed two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, says he wants to help.
“I’ve been homeless as a child and come close as an adult. It’s not easy and I completely understand where these guys are at in life,” said Ellis.
However, it was the trash Ellis noticed around the underpass of Loop 286 and Lamar Avenue that promoted action.
“We decided to go down there and clean all the trash up,” said Ellis. “After we cleaned up that intersection we went over to North Main and in total have removed nine 55 gallon bags worth of trash.”
While Ellis has received backlash (even threats) for taking a stand against panhandlers, many in Lamar County are standing behind the veteran with almost 400 signatures on a petition created to end panhandling in 24-hours.
“It’s not fair to the communities that make good decisions and work hard to have to deal with the trash and folks lying to them.”
Chief of Police Bob Hundley says while his patrol officers watch the frequented spots for panhandling, there is no law against it.
“As long as these individuals are not standing in the roadway itself, they are not violating a law,” explained Hundley. “Paris does not have an ordinance regarding panhandling or location where it can take place at.”
While the petition might show support for the ban of panhandling in Paris, City Attorney Stephanie Harris explained cities who have enacted these laws have faced constitutional challenges.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has put significant barriers in the way of panhandling ordinances that is protected by free speech,” said Harris.
However, there are laws in place to protect the public.
“There are laws in place for any unwanted touching of a person such as assault and disorderly conduct if any obscene words tend to create a disturbance,” said Hundley.
When it comes to littering, Hundley says they need proof.
“People would think these persons asking for assistance are the ones providing the litter at these locations, but we have to be able to prove they are the ones.”
While it seems everyone’s hands are tied when it comes to changing the law, Ellis says he will continue to help the men and women panhandling on street corners.
“Since we’ve started standing down there with the panhandlers and cleaning it up we’ve actually been able to help a few of them,” said Ellis. “I actually prayed with one man this morning but not all of them are really homeless and are just taking advantage of people.”
Ellis believes taking a stand against panhandling in Paris will actually help those in need in the long run.
“I am a good guy and I want to help these folks and stop this panhandling nonsense,” he said.