St. Louis Park still struggling with panhandlers

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The affluent metro suburb of St. Louis Park is switching gears in a continuing effort to deal with a panhandling problem, KSTP reports.

It's not clear exactly how many panhandlers are working the streets of St. Louis Park, but Police Chief John Luse said city officials have noted an increase. Police had tried to offer them services, including food and shelter, KSTP reports. But "that proved to be the wrong analysis," Luse said. No one wanted that kind of help, he said.

So the city is now more focused on prohibiting panhandlers from standing in the median of busy roads, where they can be a distraction to drivers, KSTP reports. Signs are now posted on medians, and citations will be issued if necessary, police say.

The city created a web page for residents, offering guidance on how to deal with panhandlers. In short, it advises not giving them money and instead donating to charitable organizations that help the poor.

On the page, Luse in a lengthy letter to residents said he understands that the increase in panhandlers is making residents uncomfortable.

"People driving through or visiting our community are left with negative images of St. Louis Park," Luse says in the letter. "A resident recently described the Excelsior Boulevard and Highway 100 area as an “eyesore” in characterizing the image relatives received while visiting him from out of town."

Luse also notes: "There is no empirical data to suggest that the presence of panhandling has caused crime to increase in St. Louis Park. We do know anecdotally that many of our local panhandlers want only cash, and that when they leave their post they go directly to their liquor store or drug dealer. Some of them have even begun to dress in clothing that will play upon your sympathy or possibly amuse you. It is also true that of our local panhandlers several were our primary suspects in a string of home burglaries we have been investigating, and two have been charged with such crimes."

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