Local panhandlers maneuver through laws, licenses

Originally Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2013, 9:23 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 27, 2013, 11:41 am
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By Sarah Hayden, shaydenqconline@gmail.com

David has been panhandling at Bettendorf intersections for three years. He said he has no other way to cover the cost of medications he needs after suffering two strokes.

He said he doesn't collect social security and has no other income.

He stands on the shoulder of the off-ramp of Interstate 74 on Middle Road, holding a sign that reads, "Homeless. Need Help. God Bless."

After three hours, he's only made $3. "This corner here pays nothing. If you don't get Spruce Hills Drive, you don't make money," he said

David said the most he's ever made was $500 about three years ago at the Spruce Hills Drive/I-74 intersection. He said he won't come out in bad weather and can't endure more than three hours of panhandling in a day.

"People for the most part are nice, they don't know your situation," he said. "They tell you to go work at McDonald's. I won't do it. I will pick up pop cans before I go work for $7.25 an hour."

In 2003, the Davenport West High School grad was a district manager for Menards, making close to $100,000 per year. But he got tired of the business travel, so quit. Then he worked odd jobs, but never regained financial stability.

"I went downhill after my mom died. But it's the God's honest truth, I do no drugs, no alcohol and I don't smoke cigarettes," David said. "Some of these guys will stand out here all day long just to collect money for something to smoke or drink."

By law, he's not allowed to step off the curb and approach vehicles. He pulls his panhandling license from a plastic baggie and carefully unfolds it, covering his last name. He applies for a new license every six months at Bettendorf City Hall and is required to carry it while soliciting.

Bettendorf is the only local city that allows panhandling.

"Constitutionally, they are allowed to do it. It's considered free speech," Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington said.

"Just yesterday, we had an issue where one panhandler was mad at another for taking his spot at Spruce Hills," the chief said. "They kind of have their turf," but it's "first-come first-serve."

He said from June 1 to Oct. 9, the police department received four resident complaints about panhandlers. "There have been no arrests; they've been behaving themselves. The regular ones, they know what the rules are."

Chief Redington said that although licenses are free, forcing panhandlers to fill out the paperwork is meant to discourage them from pandhandling. Applicants are asked if they'd like to meet with a social worker who can direct them to local food pantries and charities, but almost no one takes advantage of the offer, he said.

The licenses also "give us an idea of who's out here in case we have problems," the chief said. "We do a background check, but if they have a criminal past, it doesn't prevent them from panhandling."

Tyler Ramenda, 19, is soliciting in the rain on the corner of the I-74 off-ramp at Kimberly Road and Spruce Hills Drive. He said he left Tennessee because of an arrest warrant, but refuses to discuss the charge.

He clutches a cardboard sign that reads "Travellin to Indiana, Broke & Hungry, need Help for bus ticket & food. Anything Helps. Spare Change? God Bless you all."

"You make better money in bad weather," he said. "It's how you present yourself. If you look raggedy, they'll give you money. These (overalls) haven't been washed since before deer season last year in September."

A woman in a black SUV pulls up to the red light and motions him over, handing him a wad of dollar bills. He excitedly pulls them apart, counting, "one, two, three, four - she gave me $5!"

Within the first two hours, he's collected $30.

"The best days are Friday through Sunday because people get paid on Friday," Mr. Ramenda said. "Panhandling makes more than minimum wage. Overall, it equals out to about $20 an hour.

"The most I made was $400 in one day in Bainbridge, Georgia. I got $50 and $100 bills in Nashville, but I've only seen one $20 bill since I've been in Iowa."

Mr. Ramenda said he has never met his biological father, and his mother recently told him about a sister he never knew he had. He hitchhiked to Davenport in April to live with his uncle.

Expelled from high school at 17, he's a recovering meth addict, and said his drug habit and lack of a diploma have made it difficult to keep jobs.

"I used to come to school drunk and high everyday. I've been clean since Feb. 23. My meth habit cost me $250 a day," he said. "I'm a free spirit. I'm 19 with the experience of a 40-year-old."

A driver honks and throws a crumpled bill from the sunroof. It bounces over the car, and the wind carries it up the road and into the heavily weeded boulevard. Mr. Ramenda chases it, searching for 10 minutes before giving up.

"That could have been a 20," he said, picking up his sign again. He proudly shows his Harley Davidson cigarette lighter. "I always have fire wherever I go because fire is the key to survival."

Mr. Ramenda does not have a panhandling license, and said he wasn't aware one was required. He said he plans to panhandle in Moline too, hoping to make more money.

"We don't allow it," Moline city clerk Tracy Koranda said, adding that the city does have itinerant vendor licenses which allow door-to-door soliciting for salespeople.

Rock Island Deputy Police Chief Jason Foy said there have been people asking for money in the downtown district, but there hasn't been a big problem. "I don't know anybody who's out there with a sign like you see on I-74."

Chief Redington said records show 10 active permits in Bettendorf, not including panhandlers who have been banned for fighting with each other or for being rude to motorists.

"We probably ban anywhere from five to eight a year," he said. "That's the first step before we cite them. The don't have the money to pay the fine, so most of the time we ban them."

He said bans last for six months, but if problems persist, panhandlers can be permanently banned.

Bettendorf police Lt. John Majeske said most panhandlers have settled into a quiet routine.

"This summer wasn't as bad as last summer," he said. "We've found that most panhandlers use the money for alcohol, and not the reason stated on their sign."

Bettendorf's ordinance prohibits panhandling from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, to prevent traffic disruption during the main rush hours. Panhandling licenses also allow them to go door to door.

Roger Hodgson, 51, said he makes $50 to $100 per day going door to door in Bettendorf neighborhoods 40 to 50 hours per week. A friend drops him off, and Mr. Hodgson texts him when he's ready to be picked up.

Mr. Hodgson, who is deaf, hands out cards asking for donations. The sign-language alphabet is printed on one side, with his plea for money on the other.

"I am deaf," the card reads. "I am asking for donations to help support my living. ... Please donate what you wish."

He started panhandling five years ago after he lost his job in a machine shop in California. Unmarried with no children, he moved back to Iowa to be near family. He said he receives monthly social security checks, but won't disclose the amount.

Mr. Hodgson said most people are generous and nice, but a few have yelled at him. He doesn't claim to be homeless, but he and his roommate are being evicted from their apartment for smoking cigarettes.

Chief Redington said he gets many calls from residents concerning Mr. Hodgson, but he's caused no problems.

"Any panhandler can do that (go door to door)," he said. "We've got another guy who drives panhandlers around and drops them off at corners. They've got a little system going."

Chief Redington said he would prefer people didn't give money to the panhandlers because it encourages them.

"You don't know where that money's going. We feel there's enough shelters and charities in town," he said. "That way, you know your donation will go to someone."


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