HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Holyoke’s panhandler population was on the agenda Tuesday night during the City Council meeting.
The issue was brought up by City Councilor James Leahy, who said he believes Holyoke’s panhandling isn’t a homeless issue, but rather more of a human trafficking issue, similar to sex trafficking. He recommended that Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni be invited to speak to the City Council about the problem.
Councilor Leahy said, “I think it’s higher than the City Council, that’s why I want to get the District Attorney involved. I think this is actually a very well organized human trafficking event, very similar to sex trafficking.”
If approved, the invitation will be sent to the District Attorney’s office to open a dialogue on the issue.
22News observed several panhandlers at some of the city’s traffic islands along busy roads leading to the Holyoke Mall. People said stopping next to one can be an awkward experience.
“I don’t ever acknowledge them because I don’t know if they are legitimate,” Holyoke resident Alyssa Asselin said. “I see the same ones every single day and then I see the same girl 10 miles away and I’m like ‘How did she get there even?’ I get that there are tons of public transportation.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, victims of human trafficking can be part of “begging rings”, in which traffickers take the money collected by their victims.