HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – There may be more to Holyoke’s panhandler population than meets the eye.
Holyoke City Councilor James Leahy said the panhandlers you see at stop lights and intersections are too organized to all be homeless.
Councilor Leahy said he called the National Human Trafficking Hotline for human trafficking and he’s convinced that not all the people who beg for your money are who their sign says they are.
Panhandling is listed as a form of human trafficking that can often be bundled with forced labor or sex trafficking.
22News found panhandlers in their usual spots on the traffic island near the Holyoke Mall and Barnes & Noble plaza and also on Main Street by the entrance to I-391.
Leahy said he’s bringing the issue up because he’s concerned about their safety. “I’m doing this out of compassion. A lot of these people are standing out there for 9 or 10 hours a day Rain, snow, 90-degree heat and I think that there is a higher up. There’s a hierarchy involved and I just don’t want to see these people getting mistreated,” said Leahy.
Leahy went on to say they want to offer help to people addicted to drugs or who may have a mental health issue.
According to Leahy, panhandlers often are working for someone else. They are forced to collect the money, hand over the profits, and are beat or subjected to sexual violence if they refuse.
The issue will be taken up with District Attorney Anthony Gulluni and Holyoke Police Chief James Neiswanger at a future meeting.