If you have driven around Macon, chances are you may have seen people on the side of the road asking for food or money. A panhandling ordinance has been in place for a decade now, though many people still say it is a problem.
Several downtown Macon restaurants say panhandling is hurting their business. Management at the Rookery off camera spoke to us off camera. They said panhandling is just as bad as it was before. Over at Parish, they say they have experienced the same thing.
Sid Henson, a bartender there, says several times a week, the staff struggles to fend off panhandlers from their outside seating area.
"There's been some instances of them coming and sitting down with customers trying to enjoy their dinner. We've had some come in and ask for money,” says Henson.
He says panhandling has been causing a problem for downtown businesses for some time now.
"We have a lot of them that cause a lot of disruptive behavior down here that come in, they'll want to jump in with the band occasionally and try to get money from them in various aspects, pretty much just cause a nuisance,” explains Henson.
The Macon-Bibb County Sheriff's Office says panhandlers normally tend to stay in areas like Gray Highway, areas of high traffic, but Major Eric Walker says the ordinance has really helped officers determine the specifics of where and when panhandling is prohibited.
"It's gotten some better. Like last year alone, there were 56 panhandling charges that went before the courts, but that is an improvement over where before there was no ordinance to be enforced or anything. So we just had complaints and we'd have to tell people, 'OK, you have to go,' and if they didn't we'd have to charge them with criminal trespass,” explains Major Walker.
He says the number of panhandling citations has been on the decline since the ordinance took effect 10 years ago. The Macon-Bibb County Sheriff’s Office says in 2014 there were 31 panhandling citations. Back in 2015, there were 27 panhandling citations. The next year in 2016, there were a total of 56 citations. Also, they have reported since the beginning of 2017, there have been 4 panhandling citations.
Major Walker says they give first time offenders a warning. After that it is a $270 fine or time in jail.
Just down the street is a group that is helping to keep panhandlers off the streets by feeding them. Debbie Towson, Executive Director of the Macon Outreach at Mulberry Group, says she thinks the panhandling problem is better than it was in years passed. But she says there is something you can do to help.
"What you can do is have a McDonald's or Burger King little $5 gift card in your car or have a little snack pack of Vienna sausage or sweets. Something like that so instead of handing cash to them hand them something to eat,” says Towson.
Major Walker says some of the hot spots for panhandling around Macon are the Spring Street Bridge, the Coliseum exit, Eisenhower Parkway and I-475, Bass Road and I-75 and the Kroger on Zebulon Road.