Updated: Thursday, 13 May 2010, 11:13 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 13 May 2010, 9:55 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - They hold cardboard signs and looks of desperation. Panhandlers can be found on the street corners in Central Indiana.
If you've handed over your money, you've probably wondered what their real story is. I-Team 8’s Karen Hensel did the background work to find out.
Keystone and 86th is one of the major intersections home to panhandlers. The panhandlers hold signs reading "homeless", "stranded" and "hungry."
But are they really? With each face you drive by, there is a story.
Chuck and Brenda panhandle at 38th and Michigan.
Brenda says, "I'm stranded here from St. Louis with no id and no money."
Chuck says, “I have an associate degree from Indiana State University. I don't steal, so this is what I do."
Tim sits downtown nearly everyday at Meridian and I-70.
He says, “I'm 51. I've been here all my life and I ran into a bad situation three years ago and I lost everything.”
Tim explains the first few days of being homeless by saying, “at first you go through shock and you walk around and don’t know where to go.”
Misty, who panhandles at 86th and Keystone, told our hidden cameras, "We lost our house last month."
Misty says she has children.
But what about the story behind the story. Are the people who panhandle in Central Indiana truly homeless?
In a six-month hidden camera investigation, I-Team 8 tracked and followed some of the regular panhandlers of Indianapolis. Not just downtown, where some begin to peel back the layer of fellow panhandling phonies with signs like, "Why lie...it's for beer."
We tracked the panhandlers you see outside downtown.
Misty says she panhandles hoping to find shelter and feed her kids.
Her sign reads, "Homeless. Anything will help. God bless."
We decided to find out how true her claims were.
I-Team 8 watched Misty and her crew drive from the south side of town and show up for their version of work. They usually show up around 2:30 in the afternoon. They work both sides of the intersection. At one point, Misty simply hands her sign to be used by the next panhandler within her group. This time it is a man.
We watched as she walked away from her panhandling post at 86th and Keystone to her car parked hidden away at Keystone at the Crossing shopping mall.
And we watched as a green Lexus SUV picked her and her crew up and then drop them off a few hours later.
It turns out Misty has a lot she isn't telling and what's written on her broken piece of cardboard is a lie.
She’s not really homeless. She lives on North Mitchner in Indianapolis. It's the address she gave to police just a few weeks ago.
After spending weeks watching and tracking her panhandling, one day Misty didn't show up. Turns out she'd been involved in a heroin bust. According to the police report, her car was parked at, "Frankies...a known heroin dealer’s house."
A former employer, and others in Greenfield, say emphatically she is not in need.
Ray Collins, the former employer, said Misty doesn’t need to panhandle.
“No, she doesn’t. She had a pretty good job,” he said.
Collins also said that Misty has a home.
After watching her party on a Friday night at a hotel, I-Team 8 confronted her.
Karen: “Are you homeless?”
Misty: “Me and my husband, yes we are.”
Karen: “What would you say if I told you we had been following you? What’s the house on North Mitchner?”
Misty: “It’s the house where my husband’s uncle lives. I don't want to be on TV though.”
We asked her about the drug bust.
Karen: “You tell people you are homeless”
Misty: “I am homeless. When was the last time you saw me go in North Mitchner.”
Karen: “When you were busted in a heroin bust that same address was the one you gave a couple of weeks ago.”
Misty: “No, no, no sweetie. That wasn't me. That was somebody else that used that address. I did not give that address.”
Karen: “You're not Misty?”
With that, she walked away from our cameras. The sign proclaiming she is homeless? She tossed it alongside the road.
Michael Hurst is the program director for the city’s homeless program called CHIP. He's giving us the first look at a new survey of Indianapolis panhandlers.
Hurst says, "Zero of the individuals walking up to you asking for money are homeless. None of them were homeless.”
Hurst says the picture is clear on the homeless, saying, “They're not going to spend time on street corners."
Hurst says their study found panhandlers with signs along the interstate approaching you are not homeless and only 25 of the passive solicitors, those with cups sitting on downtown streets, are homeless.
Unfortunately, the reality is there are 1,500 in Indianapolis homeless, out of work or trying to get to family.
But stories like Misty often harden others from ever giving at all, especially when you see what I-Team 8 uncovered in "the hole." It is the panhandlers hiding place no cameras have ever been.
If you look closely, you will see there is a well worn path into their hiding spot from the intersection. So, we wanted to take our cameras inside to find out what was here.
as you walk in within the first few steps you find one of the panhandler’s signs discarded.
"Homeless...anything will help. God Bless," the sign reads.
One says, "I'm blind, on Social Security, anything will help."
Someone has written "liar" on the sign.
We also found a Social Security card and a license for somebody out of Ohio. It is a clear sign of identity theft.
The small entrance to the trees really opens up as you walk back into it. I-Team 8 found a dozen signs used by panhandlers stashed there or just tossed away when they are done.
They repeatedly come back onto the corner at 86th and Keystone, so chances are they are going to use some of these same signs over and over.
We found evidence of a lot of people making camp and didn’t expect all the signs to be back there just stashed. This is clearly an area that has been used for a long time.
It may never be clear what Misty and others do with the cash you donate, but homeless advocates in Indianapolis point to their new study that none of them are in the situation they claim.
Panhandlers admitted to I-Team 8 they can make good money. One told us she can make $100 an hour and, after watching her for six months, she does get good donations. But she says men sometimes only get $5 an hour.
The full study of the homeless in Indiana will be released next week.
In the meantime, if you want to give, homeless advocates in Indianapolis say give to the five homeless shelters.
Also, on the CHIP website there is a community wish list of specific items you can donate.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday …