Panhandlers have become more visible around St. Joseph in recent months, but people should be careful about the help they give these individuals, staff with a local social service organization said.

Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph works to help homeless people in the city, and Rachael Bittiker, public affairs and community development director for the agency, said it’s best not to give money to panhandlers.

“If you feel the need to give them something, we suggest that you give them food or clothing or something like that,” Bittiker said. “The money that you’re giving them – the couple dollars here or there or whatever – is not really the progress to what they need to make to be able to stop panhandling.”

Community health workers have gone out to talk to individuals asking for money on the street corners, and what they are finding out is most of them are not the same people receiving help from the “campus” serving the homeless community that’s located Downtown. That area is around Eighth and Messanie streets and includes the Open Door Food Kitchen, CAPSTJOE’s emergency shelter, Community Missions, the Crossing’s Reentry Program, the Nutrition Center, The Salvation Army and the Booth Center.

Angi Duty is a community health navigator. Besides helping individuals improve their lives at CAP’s shelter, she has spoken to panhandlers about why they are asking for money. She’s heard many different stories.

“We put together a resource bag so it has some snack items, some food, some hygiene products,” Duty said. “There’s a paper in there that’ll tell them what all we can help them with.”

One of the things that may be preventing people from gaining employment is identification.

“You need an ID to get a birth certificate, but you need a birth certificate to get an ID,” Duty said.

It’s one of those things that may make your head spin if you were trying to navigate through resources on your own.

If an individual has lost a job or residence, or he or she is dangerously close to losing either, the best way for them to get resources is by applying for programs like the low income home energy assistance program.

LIHEAP can help individuals afford utility bills, and sometimes that is enough for them to afford rent. Or perhaps that plus utilizing one of the food pantries in town can offset groceries so again they can afford other monthly expenses.

“That’s why we have the outreach workers that are going out to meet with them,” Bittiker said. “We’re all trying to reach out to them to make contact with them through our outreach workers to see what resources we can give them to get them off the streets.”

Ryan Hennessy can be reached at Follow him on twitter: @NPNowHennessy.

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