WICHITA, Kan. Wichita Police are asking residents to stop giving cash to panhandlers. The department launched a new awareness campaign Thursday to tell people while it may seem like you're helping, it actually perpetuates the homeless problem in Wichita.
Instead, they're asking you to stop by a police sub-station and pick up some brochures to hand out instead, which has information about resources like where to get food, shelter, and other help.
It's a plan that has Bobby Titus worried. He says he's been panhandling for about three months.
He stood near the Pawnee and Broadway Walmart Thursday, holding a sign that reads, "Hungry homeless." It's written on a box that used to hold oatmeal cream pies.
"It's not a comfortable feeling to have to come out and feel like you're begging, but my sign asks people quietly so I don't harass people," Titus said.
He says he resorted to panhandling to support his wife and two teenage kids. He lost his job after he broke his ankle, and then lost his home.
"I'm a family man, I use it (the money) to provide a motel for myself and food," Titus said.
Wichita Police launched a new effort Thursday to raise awareness about panhandlers.
"We continuously see the public that are giving funds to the panhandlers. The reality is, this is adding to the problem," said Paul Cruz, one of the public information officers for the department. "Oftentimes they'll use these funds to support their habits."
Cruz says he's referring to habits of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
Instead of handing out money, police want you to help by handing out brochures you can pick up from police sub-stations, with information on where people can find food, shelter, and other resources.
But Titus is concerned the initiative will make his life even more challenging.
"Looking at the sheet, I don't see any new information," he said. "By giving us a pamphlet we already have access to is basically taking food out of our mouth and making it more difficult for us to survive," he said.
Still, he says he does appreciate the effort.
"It's great they're trying to deal with the issue instead of just telling us to get off the corner," he said. "We don't want to be a hazard to anybody, we don't want to be a problem. Just trying to survive like everybody else."
Titus says he thinks about 20-30 percent of panhandlers use the money for things like drugs and alcohol, and that gives the rest of them a bad name.
Another homeless man we reached out to says he does not panhandle, but based on what he's seen, more than half of panhandled money gets used on things of that nature.
The police department also put together a video highlighting the story of one of Wichita's former homeless residents.
Police say if a panhandler becomes aggressive or threatening, call 911 so officers can respond.
The Wichita Police Department has a Homeless outreach Team aimed at cutting down the number of homeless people in Wichita. In the past four years, that team has helped more than 700 people get back on their feet.