BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — As business owners in the region report a worker shortage, motorists in many towns see a higher number of panhandlers.
In Beckley, Mayor Rob Rappold, members of the Beckley Common Council and business owners have said in the past that panhandling is a nuisance in the city.
Local ordinances against panhandling generally do not allow for the arrest of those on public streets, due to Constitutional rights regarding free speech, according to Beckley Police Department officers.
One worker at a Robert C. Byrd Drive store said she has observed members of the same family, along with others, panhandling at an intersection near her job for the past few years. She said they appear to work as a team and in shifts.
“I’ve watched that one,” the cashier said on Thursday, February 9, 2023, of a panhandler at a nearby intersection. “There was a lady from a church the other morning who came in and brought her a box of food and stuff, because her sign said, ‘Anything will help.’ She brought her a box of nonperishable food and stuff like that, she took it and kicked it over in the parking lot.”
She said although the panhandlers do not generally cause problems for her business, two men – one with a cane and one with a dog—recently got into a fight over who could work this intersection, which leads into downtown Beckley.
“My boss was here, and she called the police to come and get them, and the police told them they couldn’t be removed because it was on public property,” the cashier said. “So, they just stood out there and fought until they decided who was going to take over the sidewalk at that time.”
59News spoke with two panhandlers at the intersection of Robert C. Byrd Drive and West Neville Street.
Rebecca Foster, 41, approached the intersection at around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.
“I lost my mom and dad here a couple years ago, well, it’s been years, and then my family, don’t, I don’t get help with my family,” she explained. “I’ve got sisters. One of them, she just can’t help herself. The other one, she’s just having a hard time too.”
Prior to her arrival, a man had been panhandling at the stoplight. The two talked, and the man placed earbuds in his ears and left. Foster stayed at the spot and held up a sign to alert motorists she was “struggling” and that “anything” would help.
As Foster held the sign, a woman visited Foster and spoke with her.
Foster said she is the mother of children who no longer stay with her. She said she is not homeless. She and her family live in Beckley, where she also grew up. She said she sometimes does well with panhandling but sometimes gets very little money from motorists.
It was unclear if Foster, who said her work experience is limited to babysitting many years ago, has other sources of income.
She said she has applied for jobs at local businesses.
“Just no one calls me back,” she said. “I’ve called, and they say, ‘I’ll call you back.’”
She said her calls are not returned.
A second panhandler, who regularly brings his dog to the same intersection, identified himself as Omar Dinero. He said he is a military veteran from Michigan who came to Beckley with a friend.
When asked if he planned to apply for a job, he first suggested his military career made him overqualified for cashier and server jobs.
“I deal with a lot of PTSD flashbacks,” he added. “I’m, generally, irritable to deal with people. It’s very hard for me to have interactions with people. So, I’ve thought about it, yes, but because of the injuries, physically and mentally and spiritually, it’s not equitable at this time.”
It was unclear if Omar had other sources of income.