With proposed ordinance looming, KC panhandlers explain seemingly ‘professional’ system

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. --  With Kansas City leaders set to debate a new proposal to crack down on panhandling, some of the city’s homeless described a surprisingly organized system for panhandlers at some city intersections.

“Yeah, they do 30 minutes a piece,” a panhandler, who didn’t want to use his name, said at a traffic light near the city’s Buck O’Neill Bridge.

Another homeless man in the city’s River Market also described a seemingly understood practice among panhandlers to share lucrative corners in 30 minute shifts.

Over the span of about 4 hours, FOX4 cameras spotted seven different panhandlers working the traffic light just south of the Buck O’Neill Bridge.

Some people who live and work in the city’s River Market area said they've also noticed panhandlers who appear to be operating in an organized, almost professional, manner.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit pedestrians from stopping, standing or remaining in any intersection or crosswalk longer than the amount of time it takes to get across safely.

Because it's not illegal for people to beg for money, the proposal goes out of its way to avoid mentioning the word panhandling and instead focuses on pedestrian safety.

Kristi Decker said the apparent professional panhandling gives her misgivings about helping the homeless.

“It makes it different because I feel like, if one person is struggling, I want to help them,” Decker said. “But if a whole group of them are intentionally just trying to earn money that way, it just kind of makes it feel seedy.”

KC Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who introduced the proposed ordinance, said it's is mainly about safety but argued that panhandling in a way that takes advantage of people’s good will is another motivating factor.

“It’s kind of a cottage industry out there,” Loar said. “They’re making a lot of money because people in Kansas City are very generous and very caring and want to help.”

The Kansas City Council’s Transportation Committee will take public comments on the proposed ordinance Thursday morning.

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