Scammers pretend to be homeless in Columbia

Dozens of homeless people carry cardboard signs and ask for money on the street corners of Columbia every day. (Mark Slavit/KRCG 13)

Dozens of homeless people carry cardboard signs and ask for money on the street corners of Columbia every day.

We wanted to know how many of those people are homeless and how many of them are not.

Donald Ash is homeless. Ash said panhandling for money in Columbia was difficult because some scammers invaded his territory.

“People are driving $40,000 trucks," he said. "They own their own houses and they still come here and take stuff they don’t need just because they can.”

Clinton Ewings said life was tough as a homeless man in Columbia when scammers lowered his chances of getting help.

“They’re standing on the corner flying a sign and they get into a Mercedes or a BMW," Ewings said. "That’s crazy. I mean if you have money, you’re making everybody else look bad.”

Debby Graham runs a homeless shelter at Columbia’s Broadway Christian Church. Graham was very familiar with Columbia’s homeless population and said looks can be deceiving.

“You cannot tell by looking at their sign or how they are dressed or really anything visual about the person,” Graham said.

Shelter directors said you should prepare before giving to the homeless on street corners. Shelter directors said you should help panhandlers by keeping some items in your car. They said a bottle of water, an energy bar or even a $5 fast food gift card are things a true homeless person appreciated, while a scammer just wanted some cash.

Lisa Payne volunteers at Columbia’s Turning Point ministry at Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church. Turning Point volunteers offer food, clothing and shower facilities to the homeless. Payne said scammers did not stop her from helping everyone.

“I don’t worry about that type of thing," Payne said. "I figure God will sort that out. It’s not for us to deny services.”

City of Columbia statistics showed more than 250 homeless people walked the streets of Columbia in 2017. Homeless shelter directors said that number would likely increase in 2018 just like the number of scammers looking for a quick buck.

The City of Columbia allows panhandling, but only during daylight hours.

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