MARYSVILLE, Wash. — Panhandlers were present near Smokey Point, along the off-ramp on Exit 206 in Marysville, on Monday.
Interstate 5 is the divider between Marysville and Arlington, which is located on the other side of the freeway.
“Homeless and hungry,” reads one man’s sign. “Asking for help and willing to work — not looking for a handout.”
Numerous drivers exiting I-5 south in Marysville say this is a problem spot. So do city officials in Marysville and Arlington, who are teaming up city-to-city to form a more comprehensive plan to curb panhandling.
"When you hand the money out the window to a panhandler, you're taking a very large risk that that money may go to feed those addictive habits," said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring.
He says it’s not knowing where the driver’s contributions are going – that’s the issue.
The problem has the city of Marysville and Arlington teaming up to together to create flyers, listing alternate charities to donate to or places homeless can find help as a risk-free alternative.
"Really what were trying to do is encourage those that may feel the need to give to a panhandler to instead keep the change and donate it to an organization or to a charity that directly provides services to those in need," said Kristin Banfield, assistant city administrator for the city of Arlington.
The flyers were designed to give people who want to donate a guarantee that their money is going toward food, clothing and shelter.
"Not in all instances, we recognize -- but there is a connection between when you give cash to panhandler. Some of those individuals will use that to feed their heroin habits or their other addictive behavior," said Nehring.
The extended efforts are all part of the campaign—“Keep the Change", an initiative both cities started two to three years ago.
"It didn’t eliminate it all, but it reduced it in some of the key areas where we had seen a lot of it," said Nehring of the program's progress.
Both cities however, still have major panhandling problem areas.
"We have steadily seen some increase in the last few months of complaints from our local residents and businesses who are indicating that they're seeing more of panhandling type activity," said Banfield.
The biggest frustrations are coming from businesses who find homeless people sleeping outside their shops and from mothers approached at night, who are worried about their family's safety.
"Primarily in my case—it's been mothers who will contact me and say, 'You know what, I was filling up gas at a local station and it was getting dark out and I have my kids in the car—and I turn around and I have a large individual asking me for money and what's going through my head is I don’t want to give them money--but if I don’t is everything going to turn out OK?'" explained Nehring.
The intersection off I-5 in Smokey Point is one of the join problem spots that has been identified as a place where panhandling has been seen as aggressive. In Marysville, there are several city ordinances that ban panhandling at certain locations but panhandling is not banned citywide.