South Burlington Police crack down on panhandlers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

South Burlington Police crack down on panhandlers

Mikey Santaw Mikey Santaw
George Baldwin George Baldwin

South Burlington, Vermont - June 23, 2011

You've probably seen him here before. Mikey Santaw panhandles for money at the intersection of Interstate 189 and Shelburne Road in South Burlington just about every day.

"Lost my job, had no place to go, and I'm an alcoholic and I just can't make cash," Santaw said.

The 44-year-old says he's had a number of jobs but never made money like this. He holds a sign for a couple hours a day and rakes in the cash. Santaw said he makes $200 or $300 a day.

"I make more money than I do working a job," he said.

George Baldwin says begging for money is his only source of income and says he can't work due to two brain cysts and leg problems.

"If I could work, I would work," Baldwin said. "But until my disability case goes through and I'm granted my disability, I gotta do what I gotta do to survive."

Panhandling is not illegal at the intersection. But due to complaints from motorists and an increase in trash, authorities have issued trespassing warnings effective next Tuesday.

"It's really become a safety and health issue," South Burlington Police Cpl. Tonya Lawyer said. "You used to see them out there once in awhile, now it's a daily occurrence and it's all day long."

The land is owned by the state. Signs will be put up near the current homeless camp. The state will landscape the area so it's more wide open and less likely to attract homeless people.

"So when they are taking a break they are not hidden from the purview from the public and the public doesn't see them sitting there on their chair having a drink or using the facilities as they see fit," Lawyer said.

But some panhandlers say it won't keep them away.

"I'm pissed," Santaw said. "I'll still come back here. If I can't stand on the interstate I'll stand on the sidewalk."

"In their minds it's a day's work," said Matt Young of the HowardCenter.

Young is a homeless counselor. He says to panhandlers this is a job and that it's better than mooching off free services.

"Many people only feel homeless when they are staying in a shelter. When they are living outside in a campsite, when they are panhandling, they don't feel homeless," Young explained.

While police look to clean up the area, Santaw says he hopes it will motivate him to clean up his life.

Reporter Matt Henson: Do you want to get your life back together?

Mikey Santaw: Yes, I do. I'm sick of living on the streets.

Now police say they can't win this battle alone. While they thank motorists for their generosity towards the less fortunate, police are asking them to stop making cash donations at the intersection and instead donate it to an agency like a homeless shelter or a food bank.

Matt Henson - WCAX News

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