ALBANY, GA (WALB) - It's a problem that has been plaguing Albany for years.
From the streets of downtown to the exit ramps near the bypass, panhandlers are a common sight across Albany.
Ronald Johnson considers himself as one of the pros at panhandling. A couple of coins here, and a handful of change there is how he says he makes a living.
"Sometimes, I do it because, like, I don't have no job. I do it just to survive, ma'am, that's all," said Johnson.
Sometimes he makes just enough to get by, but every donation can add up quick. On his best days, Johnson said he can make as much as $20 to $30.
He's been panhandling for almost 25 years. He started after falling on hard times in Fort Lauderdale. Now in Albany, he continues surviving off the generosity of others, generosity that can sometimes far exceed what he expects.
"I just asked him to buy me a cup of coffee, and he gave me a hundred dollar bill. I was shocked, you know," said Johnson, recalling an encounter he had in Fort Lauderdale.
It's proof that panhandling can sometimes be a lucrative business that can sometimes come at the expense of other business owners, like barber shop manager Derrick Burks.
"They'll come in and just basically ask for change all day, and once you tell them no, they'll go to asking your clients," said Burks.
Others say an open door can be an open invitation for panhandlers to come seeking an open hand.
"Whether it's a wheelchair, whether they're on crutches, a bicycle, they're going to come and they're running the well dry," said Sunshyne, owner of Ethnic Shynes.
The problem with that? Those who run the well dry are running customers away.
"It does discourage business when people are coming, trying to get gas, or trying to get groceries and say "Hey, I don't want to go there, because you have people who hang around a lot," said Roderick Gervin, manager of Homerun Foods on Oglethorpe Blvd.
So what's the solution? Right now, there is one idea in the works. The city is working to add what's known as homeless meters in downtown Albany.
The meters look and operate much like parking meters. The money, however, goes to helping those in need, which creates a collection of change to bring about a change to end panhandling.
"We feel like we could eliminate that in our downtown area by making that happen. And it's an idea that we're working on with our downtown manager," said David Blackwell, executive director of the Albany-Dougherty Coalition to End Homelessness.
Blackwell said the meters could be in place across downtown as early as spring of next year.
"We're pushing hard to make it happen," he said.
The meters would be new to Albany, but not a new concept.
In Tuscon, Arizona, a group called Change Movement installed 20 meters in the city's downtown.
For Albany, these meters may be the city's best method to curb panhandling. Right now, there's no law on the books that bans panhandling.
That makes things tricky for police.
Lieutenant William Dowdell said the department enforces state law, which only bans anyone from soliciting contributions from the side of the road.
"When they're on the sidewalks, that's not basically regulated and owned by the state, that's a real gray area for us," said Dowdell.
Dowdell stressed that its a community effort to battle panhandling. He encouraged business owners to report it when they have a problem. Offenders would then face charges of criminal trespass.
"We need those businesses to follow up and say, hey, they're out here again. I do want them charged, we can make that arrest," he said.
And for individuals who are in the giving spirit this holiday season, Blackwell urged giving to charity organizations to help those in need.
"I think we all as a community have to do a better job of moving people the direction they need to go. And not assuming the incorrect thing about who they see at a street corner or a red light."
That community help is what can create a better future for those like Johnson.
"I'm an honest fellow, I'm not here, I don't try to hurt nobody," he said.
For a full list of services available to those in need or charity organizations where you can donate, see the list below.
- Albany Housing Authority
- 521 Pine Ave, Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (229) 434-4500
- *Income Based Housing
- Waiting list 6 months
- Neighborhood Service Center
- 901 N Jackson St, Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (229) 883-1365
- *Facing Evictions/Preventive Services
- *Hope Program
- Neighbors in Need
- 2005 Martin Luther King Jr Dr., Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (229) 883-2872
- *Food *Clothing *Utilities *Rental Assistance
- Lutheran Services
- 1508 Whispering Pines Rd, Albany, GA 31707
- Phone:(229) 432-7664
- *Rental Assistance
- Department of Children and Services (DFACS)
- 200 W Oglethorpe Blvd, Albany, GA 31701
- Phone:(229) 430-4118
- *Utility Assistance (Elderly)
- Salvation Army/A Place for Hope
- 304 W 2nd Ave, Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (229) 435-1428
- *Housing Assistance*
- Help to obtain ID, DL, Social Security card.
- Albany Rescue Mission
- 604 N Monroe St, Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (229) 518-1007
- Southwest Georgia Community Action Council
- 912 1st Ave SE, Moultrie, GA 31776
- Phone: (229) 985-3610
- *Support for low-income families.
- First Presbyterian Church
- 220 N Jackson St., Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (229) 432-6706
- Friendship Missionary Baptist Church
- 400 Pine Ave., Albany, GA 31701
- Phone: (256) 426-1284
- New Birth Fellowship Christian
- 2106 Radium Springs Rd., Albany, GA 31705
- First Presbyterian Church
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