FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- Drivers in the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas are reporting an increase in panhandlers along roadsides.
Sgt. Daniel Grubbs with the Fort Smith Police Department said panhandlers are within their rights as long as they are on public property. If they are on private property, an owner can tell a panhandler to leave and police can also make an arrest for disorderly conduct if he or she is blocking traffic or causing issues for drivers.
Those at the police department have received some reports of panhandlers threatening others, which can potentially lead to a terroristic threatening arrest, Grubbs explained.
"It's just a problem," Veteran Stuart Rowland of Van Buren said.
Rowland continued and said he takes pride in being a veteran and is not afraid to ask panhandlers claiming to be veterans what unit they served in.
"Their sign would say they're a disabled veteran and anything would help... and when I asked about his unit, he would just look at me and shout 'the army.' That's not the (proper) response if you have been in the military," Rowland explained.
Grubbs said that's not unusual.
"We have found there's a lot of false motives," he said. "We have actually followed some of them to houses and cars."
There are non-profit organizations in the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas that offer help to those in need.
"We have many avenues for them to get assistance, but doing it on a street corner is not the answer," Grubbs added.
The Salvation Army has some suggestions if you are approached by a panhandler.
"The most helpful thing and powerful thing you can do for someone is to give them information on how they can help themselves," Becky Gentry, Social Services Director at Salvation Army in Fort Smith said. "If they're hungry, you can give them food, but I really wouldn't suggest giving them any money."
The Salvation Army in Fort Smith offers breakfast and dinner everyday of the week. They also offer clothing and utility assistance.
Grubbs has one more piece of advice.
He said, "You just have to be safe. You don't know who these people are."