HANFORD – Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever is getting weary of the police and other city employees repeatedly cleaning up homeless encampments and trash piles only to see them reappear again and again in the same places.
He's got some advice for people wanting to give clothing, cash or other items directly to homeless people or individuals begging on the street: Don't.
"What we really don't want, we really don't want churches going out there and giving them stuff [directly]," Sever said. "We don't like them going out there delivering clothing and food."
Sever said the items, which can include tents and tarps, often end up being discarded at the homeless encampments, where the trash accumulates.
"A lot of people out there are hoarders," he said. "They just collect trash and collect trash."
Sever said that homeless people have nowhere to put all the stuff being given to them, so they just take what they need or want and throw the rest away.
Jeff Kristenson, pastor at South Valley Community Church in Lemoore, agreed with much of what Sever had to say.
Kristenson said people from South Valley work in the Episcopal soup kitchen and partner with Lemoore Christian Aid, which coordinates with St. Vincent de Paul.
Kristenson praised the desire to help, but said that it can sometimes backfire.
"I think there is a reality where sometimes in our efforts to help, we actually hurt," he said. "I think people should give through reputable charities and organizations."
Kristenson specifically mentioned Kings Gospel Mission, an organization in Hanford that houses homeless men and gives them job training.
"We have an obligation to the poor in the Scriptures, there's no doubt," he said. "I think the question becomes, what's the best way to help them? A handout, I think, is not always the best option."
Kristenson said it's better to give to/help out with organizations that "minister to [poor and/or homeless people] in the long term."
Police and other city workers recently cleared out some large encampments built up in the open field north of Highway 198 between 11th and 12th avenues with the east-west San Joaquin Valley Railroad tracks running through it.
One encampment, surrounded by a wall of tumbleweeds wrapped in blue tarps, had trash piled up in several shopping carts.
Sever said the encampments pop up faster than police, who have to respond to more pressing calls, can get them removed.
Sever also warned people against giving money to panhandlers and people claiming to need money for funeral expenses.
"A lot of them are scams," he said.
He said police found that in one instance, people claiming a child had died made up the whole thing and were from out of the area.
When police approached them, the people ran.
Sever said that in another instance, a woman begging for money had several $100 bills in her possession.
Sever suggested that instead of giving cash, clothes or other items directly to transients, people instead volunteer at or give to organizations that give to people with verified needs.
"We have a lot of empathy for what [homeless] people are going through," Sever said. "Let's support the groups where we actually know the money goes to help the people."