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Bill Schammert, Forum Communications, Published May 01 2012

VIDEO: An inside look at panhandling in the metro

FARGO - As the temperatures heat up, the panhandlers come out in droves here in Fargo, but what they're doing isn't illegal. But just what drives these men and women to beg for money?

Panhandlers frequent on and off ramps, such as I-94 and South University in Fargo. While they are restricted from begging in the downtown area, Fargo police say they have every right to panhandle on these street corners.

“Oftentimes people don't realize that there are constitutional rights that allow people to do these types of activities in our community," said Lt. Joel Vettel of the Fargo Police Department.

There is a section of downtown Fargo where panhandling is not allowed. Vettel says numerous cases to restrict panhandling have been overturned. Now it's all about control.

“We'll certainly deal with any complaints we get about panhandling and we do get a number throughout the year," Vettel said.

WDAY-TV spoke with several people around town who panhandle as a way to support themselves. While none wished to do an on-camera interview, each had their own, very different stories.

WDAY found 59-year-old Navy veteran Dennis Hatch near the interstate on 32nd Avenue South. He said he calls a tent alongside the Red River home. Living off of social security and panhandlng, he said he can make anywhere from $20 to $100 in a few hours.

"We know that a number of them are from the local community and I would venture to guess that some of them have homes and apartments in the community,” Vettel said.

John Massicotte told WDAY he's been panhandling off and on since he was a kid. He says he lives at the Cooper House off of his Social Security check and panhandles for a few hours every day. He uses the money for food and to "hangout" then heads home.

A man outside of West Acres said he's been doing this for the past few years, but he lives at a friend’s house. Immediately after WDAY talked to him, he quickly put his sign under this U.S. Bank tower and headed inside the mall.

“We try to make sure we are protecting everybody's rights and make the community as safe as possible,” Vettel said.

Vettel said he never advises people to give panhandlers money. He says there are plenty of resources like food pantries, shelters and other charitable programs where these people can get help.

On WDAY's Facebook page, a question was posed whether there was too much panhandling in the community and whether you ever give money. Within minutes, the station was flooded with dozens of responses.

Samantha Anderson writes, "Yes! It's ridiculous!"

Donna Behrens says, "No way! I think these people are fake."

But some did say that they have given before.

Alexa Vein writes, "I give with my heart when I can, it's not for me to judge who they are, what they do or how they got there."

Overall, an overwhelming majority said this is a serious problem and would not give money to panhandlers.