The story behind the viral Facebook post about giving money to panhandlers

A post by the Cheyenne Police Department about giving money to panhandlers has gone so viral that it was picked up by our sister station in Tampa, Florida, so 9NEWS Next Reporter Steve Staeger called their spokesperson to get more details about what was said.

The post in question shows a stack of money on a piece of cardboard. Next to it is a sign that says “Broke … Need Help … God Bless.”

In the original post, which was first published on Sunday, Cheyenne Police said the money belongs to a transient who had been arrested for public intoxication. The post says he had collected $234.94 for just a few hours of panhandling – and police said the people who gave him the money in the first place would be better off donating to a charity rather than “feeding someone’s alcohol addiction.”

This post has been shared more 46,000 times as of Friday afternoon and sparked almost 8,000 comments from people across the country. The comments ranged from support of Cheyenne Police’s message to concern that officers had wrongly taken the man’s money and then shamed him.

Kevin Malatesta, the spokesperson for Cheyenne PD, says despite some of the criticism he has received, the department would publish the same post again – but do it with more detail.

“I would say we would add several things to it,” he said.

Among those things is noting that the man will get his money back and that it will not be confiscated by police. The photo of the cash was taken when his property was inventoried after he was booked into jail and will be returned to him.

Malatesta also wanted to add that police had encountered the man multiple times and that in addition to public intoxication, he was also arrested for public urination, refusing to open commands and having an open container.

Police try to give people other options in those situations, Malatesta said, including voluntary treatment. But, if a person is a threat to themselves or others, there may be no choice but to arrest them.

“Being out on the street in Cheyenne, we have pretty brutal winters – and summers are pretty hot – and we like to get these people the assistance that they need and support to kick these habits,” Malatesta said. “However, if people are enabling it just by giving them money and we see them being arrested for public intoxication or similar offenses, repeating that cycle, that’s exactly what it is.

“At the end of the day, our whole goal is just keeping these folks out. Trying to find a more effective means for doing so.”

Malatesta says he’s not quite sure how they determined the man had collected $234.94 from only a few hours of panhandling rather than over a longer period of time, but he did say that this is an unusually high number probably inflated by the number of people in town for Cheyenne Frontier Days.

And they made the assumption the money would feed the man’s addiction based on how often officers make contact with him.

“We see this particular individual quite a bit,” Malatesta said. “It’s somebody we deal with on, I’d say, almost a daily basis. Almost every contact we make, he’s intoxicated. So that’s where that’s coming from.”

He says the main point of the post was to inform the public about the efforts Cheyenne Police are taking every day to inform the public about issues relating to the transient population in the city of 64,000 people – and that he’s a little surprised the post reached so many more.

“What we were anticipating was really just wanting to get the message out about local charities and donating to local charities,” Malatesta said.

“The other huge surprise for us is just the controversy that sparked. We didn’t expect it to go quite that large, obviously.”

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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