GASTONIA, N.C. — Gastonia police officers and community organizations are continuing a two-pronged effort to address panhandling in the city.
The effort centers on providing options to help those in need while arresting individuals who repeatedly beg for money along major roadways.
Gaston County YMCA Rev. Dwayne Burks said he started working with police officers several months ago about how to help panhandlers off the streets.
He said when officers first approach someone who's panhandling, they give the person options to get in touch with the YMCA's Gateway initiative, which helps people in poverty get access to resources.
Rev. Burks said individuals who want to go through the Gateway must show commitment.
"[Those in need] have to step over, get on the bus and go to the partner agencies," Rev. Burks said. "They will come to them, but they have to get started first."
Based on his conversations with police officers, Rev. Burks said people who do get arrested for panhandling are often repeat offenders, who likely have already tried to go through the Gateway, but they didn't follow up.
At I-85 and U.S. 321, a popular panhandling spot, NBC Charlotte spoke to a man standing at one of the off-ramps with a sign asking for help.
The man asked to not be identified because he didn't want his family knowing that panhandling is his main source of income.
"I've been homeless in several cities, including Atlanta," the man said. "[Gastonia] is by far the worst."
He claimed his begging has drawn repeated attention from police.
"They stop what they're doing," the man claimed. "They come up for a big sting and would get four officers together to run in on one man for holding a sign on the side of the highway."
NBC Charlotte is awaiting more information from Gastonia Police on how it handles panhandling, including arrest statistics.