Fly a sign: Go get a job

Fly a sign: Go get a job

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The day we first saw the unnamed woman standing on a median in Monkey Junction it felt impossible not to get frustrated at the sight of her very pregnant belly and her significant other casually watching her from a far.

But frustration turned to anger after noticing he was leaning up against a fast food sign that said: "Now Hiring."

Most of the panhandlers have two working feet and two working hands, and enough sense to figure out how to get money. Why not turn in an application somewhere like the rest of us?

"That looks simple but are you going to hire a felon?" pointed out Randy Evans, founder of Walking Tall.

We asked Steve Barton the same question. Steve had once had a good job and even after years on the street was warm and personable.

"I got a felony holding me back," he explained. "I'm not proud of it. I'm not proud of what I'm doing, I'd rather be out there working doing my thing."

A felony charge is classified by the punishment of imprisonment for over a year. Most job applicants are asked to check whether or not they've ever been convicted of a felony.

On one hand, it's an effective tool for businesses to weed out less-than-upstanding citizens for employment. On the other, even if a person reforms their life and behavior or decades have passed, the warning sign stays with them.

"Those F's on your report card - they really can present a problem when it comes to getting an apartment to rent, a job," said Jason Mitchell of Vigilant Hope. "They don't want to check that box."

A set of lawmakers in North Carolina are pushing for reform. If someone is unable to gain employment or housing because of an old charge, they are more likely to cycle back into crime to make ends meet.

The "Ban the box" bill would mandate employers for local and state agencies not be allowed to ask an applicant if they've been convicted before an interview has taken place.

"If someone could just get an interview with a potential employer past that box, then the employer can decide on a judgment level if that person is worthy of working with them," said Mitchell. "But that box is just a swipe it to the trash before they even have a relationship with someone."

Watching the panhandlers from afar, we saw several cars hand out business cards instead of cash. The offer of work is usually not accepted. Either because the panhandlers know they can make easier money with a sign, or because they know the game.

"There are people out here that will go pick up individuals in poverty and ask, 'Do you want work?'" said Randy Evans.  "Pay them just enough to get them in, reel them in, work them for two or three weeks and not pay them and not talk to them."

Scammers know that the beggars have little to no recourse in these situations. Paid in cash or not paid at all and with no formal written work agreement, they have no case.

"I even have a few friends that were put in jail because someone they were working with asked them to cash checks that were fraudulent," said Jason Mitchell. "It's a scheme, but they think this nameless person is the perfect fall guy."

Whether it's distrust or disinterest, it perpetuates the idea of earning money on a corner and not changing one's situation.

"There are lots of food pantries and a number of places that serve meals throughout the week and so no one should be going hungry in our county based on the number of food resources we have," said Cecelia Peers of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. "There are some people who chose not to go to shelter and their preference is they'd rather sleep in another temporary situation, moving from place to place. Sometimes people would rather stay in the woods."

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