SPRINGFIELD, Mo. A self-described Facebook rant by Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott has once again brought the spotlight on the city's efforts to get area drivers to stop giving money to panhandlers at local intersections.
The city has partnered with a host of local volunteer organizations to form Wheels to Work, where buses go to various intersections where panhandlers hang-out and offer them the services of a number of volunteer organizations that can help them with everything from food and shelter to jobs and substance-abuse counseling.
We've had maybe less than desirable repsonses," Springfield city manager Greg Burris admits, saying that Wheels to Work has not been as successful as they had hoped.
Of the 330 panhandlers on the street the buses have visited, Crosslines Program Coordinator Wes Bucholz says, "We've had 50 people actually get on the Wheels to Work buses and take advantage of the services being offered to them, That's about 18 percent."
"We'll decide here soon about whether or not we can afford to continue that " adds Burris, as the lack of sucess has the city and its volunteer partners unsure of the project's future.
But one thing they have asked area drivers to do is not give panhandlers money so that they will instead turn to all the free services being offered from the volunteer organizations.
And today Sheriff Jim Arnott posted the following on Facebook: "Springfield I know you are generous. However when you give nice coats, food and pack a bag with gloves, sweatshirts, etc. after they have enough cash they leave your stuff and go buy beer to enjoy back at their house. Stop enabling this behavoir. Done with the rant. BTW, this is not about homeless people, it's about panhandling."
The sheriff was not available for comment, but city manager Greg Burris reiterated the city's postion.
"It's obviously very critical that we stop handing ten dollar bills out the window," he said. "That's not helping. We're the most philanthropic community in Missouri."
A reputation that dates back 90-years as this newspaper article from 1927 had a Salvation Army official quoted as saying that Springfield was an easy mark for panhanlers because local people are naturally tender-hearted.
"It's still true today," Bucholz said. "We talk to people all the time who indicate that people in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Joplin referred them and suggested that they come to Springfield because we have a lot of services available to people. So I guess some things don't change."