Any Anchorage driver can tell you it’s not hard to find panhandlers who camp out on busy streets. Anchorage police say it’s illegal and a problem they can’t easily track.

“To be honest, no matter what we do, the panhandling seems to be increasing,” said APD Sgt. Rick Steiding.

The eastbound lanes of Debarr Road were blocked for hours on Saturday night after 62-year-old Kent Wells was struck and killed by a vehicle while he attempted to grab a handout from someone driving by.

According to police, Wells ran across the road without looking and was hit by a driver in a Chevy Astro minivan who had the right of way.

Police say it’s illegal to panhandle on the median or in the road; both the driver and the panhandler could be fined. However, panhandling from the sidewalk is technically okay.

“So, if the panhandler is standing on the sidewalk and a vehicle is in the right lane and a passenger hands the person money,” said Sgt. Steiding. “That would still be considered legal because the panhandler is not in the roadway but as soon as the panhandler steps one foot into the road it’s now a violation not only for the panhandler himself but also for the motorist.”

Legal or not, police say don’t do it. Social service providers echo the same message.

“People always ask me why we have so many panhandlers in Anchorage and the reason is people keep giving them money, it’s that simple, it’s economics if people weren’t giving them money they wouldn’t be standing on the corner,” said Lisa Sauder, Bean’s Cafe executive director.

Providers say it’s not only money that’s an issue, it’s anything — even food. Because hand-outs can keep people from coming to the places where they can get real help

“We have issues with people very well-intentioned handing out food on Karluk handing out sleeping bags on Karluk that’s not helpful it doesn’t get people engaged in the system it doesn’t get them on the list for housing and it won’t help them move along in their life 24,” she said.

When it comes to panhandling, police say it’s a dangerous situation for everyone. The best thing the public can do is just drive on by.

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