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Police urge gifts to charities instead of panhandlers

By Theo Keith, tkeith@wisctv.com
Published On: Nov 20 2012 09:22:30 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 21 2012 09:08:28 AM CST

MADISON, Wis. -

As Madison's homeless population continues to expand, police urged people to donate to reputable charities instead of giving to panhandlers on the street.

A WISC-TV investigation that aired Monday revealed panhandlers can make more money than the people who donated to them. The two-and-a-half-hour undercover investigation netted $80 in cash and change, plus food items, which equaled $36 an hour.

The money, plus a matching donation from WISC-TV, went to the Salvation Army of Dane County to help with the agency's family shelter program.

"There are administrative fees, but a large majority of that money is going directly to operating our food pantry, helping to operate our three shelters," said Leigha Weber, the Salvation Army's social services director.

The agency's shelters are always busy, and the homeless situation in Madison hasn't gotten better since the economic recession officially ended three years ago, Weber said.

Families only get 90 days in the Salvation Army's family shelter at a time, but those staying there in November said they were thankful that donations allowed them to stay there.

"I won't give up. I know I'm a strong person," said Monique, who declined to give her last name because she said she was suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her third child. "Every day, I have to accomplish something, I don't care what it is. If it's calling a book of numbers for apartments to tell them about my situation, I have to do it."

Destiny Owens, a mother of four, said her family would be homeless if it weren't for the shelter. Owens wasn't hoping to need the shelter for long, she said.

"I would want (people) to know that they're giving to a good cause," Owens said. "Their money is going to a good place, not somewhere that it shouldn't be going."

One Madison resident said he had changed his views on giving to panhandlers after giving some money in the past.

"I've seen it firsthand, where you give a couple dollars and they walk into a bar," said Kyle Miller, a musician who often plays on State Street and receives small donations. "Sometimes, obviously, it's a legitimate reason they would need it, but you can't always be sure."

Miller said he now donates what he makes on Friday nights to a group that cooks meals for the homeless on State Street.

Even though the community does so much, more needs to be done, he said.

"They really do need the help. It's not going to change for them instantly," Miller said.

In addition to smaller groups that serve meals to the homeless, Porchlight Inc., the Salvation Army and the YWCA are three organizations that provide support to low-income people in the Madison area. The organizations can be contacted at these phone numbers:

  • Porchlight: 608-257-2534
  • Salvation Army of Dane County: 608-250-2240
  • YWCA: 608-257-1436

Editor's Note: This is the second part of a two-part WISC-TV series on panhandling. To read part one of the series, click here.

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