Panhandler not welcome in Auburn

AUBURN — Moments after John Stevens held up his cardboard sign at Wal-Mart on Thursday, asking for donations because he lost everything in a house fire, the insults began.

Pattie Reaves/Sun Journal

John Stevens' truck is bashed in from an accident he says he had when he had no insurance. 

"I know all about you pedophiles," one man shouted.

Another threw four pennies at Stevens, saying, "That's all you're worth."

Another driver, calling Stevens over to his car window with the promise of a dollar, waited until Stevens was inches away and then spat at him before driving off.

And another, pulling up in a late-model pickup, rolled down his window and said, "A couple of weeks ago I gave you money for food to eat." Stevens asked if the driver wanted his money back, and the driver said no. "I just want you gone."

Before Thursday, people stopped at the light would roll down their windows and talk with Stevens, he said, wishing him good luck and, many times, offering him money. During a half-hour at the same spot Thursday afternoon, there were no offers of good wishes. Only gestures of anger and suggestions that he leave town.

"The article in the paper didn't do anything for me," Stevens, 43, said of
the Sun Journal's profile of him and his panhandling efforts at the
Wal-Mart entrance on Mount Auburn Avenue, published Thursday.

Stevens and his wife were burned out of their apartment on Chapel Street in Augusta in March, and Stevens aggravated an existing back condition when he jumped out of a second-story window to escape the flames. He started panhandling in Augusta because he couldn't find work, and has been in Auburn panhandling for the past five weeks.

The Sun Journal's story about him listed a summary of his criminal background, including a number of felony convictions and a 1997 conviction for unlawful sexual contact. Stevens must register on the Sex Offender Registry for life.

"I'm no predator," Stevens said Thursday, agitated that people would think he might hurt children. He defended his sex-offender status, saying he had been a victim of circumstance, pleading guilty to a charge on the advice of his attorney and then subjected to the shifting law that expanded the registry to include older sex convictions.

"People are always judging people," he said, adding that there's no getting away from the cloud of being a sex offender.

Stevens said he didn't think people needed to know about his criminal background to be able to help him. He was angry that the newspaper included his background, and had wanted the story to be limited to the reason he was homeless.

"Hard knocks everywhere I turn. Hard knocks. Hard knocks," he said, fighting back tears.

Stevens, who had worked as a mason and a carpenter years ago, injured his back in a car accident in 2000 and later tried to work jobs doing light janitorial work. But, "swinging the broom," he said, "I couldn't do it."

He has applied for disability insurance, but said he's been waiting more than a year for approval. He said he's also approached the city of Augusta for General Assistance and various social services for help. He has found no help for a fire victim in Maine, especially for one who doesn't have extended family support, he said. As soon as people learn of his felony convictions, the offers of help stop.

"I'm at my wit's end," Stevens said. "I'm at my lowest point."

He said he had been asked to leave shopping centers in Augusta, Waterville and Brunswick, and that Auburn was the only place he could panhandle without being run off by police.

On Thursday, he set up his sign on Wal-Mart property between the store and the Burger King restaurant.

Store Manager Dale Brann, responding to complaints from customers, asked him to move along to the Mount Auburn entrance. Brann said that he had regularly received complaints about Stevens' presence, but on Thursday the complaints escalated after customers had learned of Stevens' criminal record.

According to Deputy Chief Jason Moen of the Auburn Police Department, the city doesn't have a local ordinance that prohibits panhandling, and Stevens' presence on Mount Auburn Avenue hadn't presented traffic problems.

Police had checked on Stevens before, Moen said, and he wasn't violating any state law by asking people for help. If Wal-Mart were to object to Stevens' presence, though, store officials could tell him to leave.

"Auburn was the only place I could go where cops wouldn't bother me or harass me because I'm a sex offender," Stevens said. "I have no idea what I'm going to do now. No idea."

He had been able to save a couple of hundred dollars from the donations collected in Auburn, Stevens said, because he and his wife lived in their truck. But it was too cold on rainy nights, so they used that money to stay in a hotel in Augusta. And, he said, they had to eat. He has no savings.

Stevens said his wife of five years doesn't like what he's doing. He had hoped that people might be more charitable Thursday, but after a half-hour he decided he wasn't welcome.

At one point, a car with three young men stopped at the light and yelled at him. Stevens yelled back, and the driver opened his door and got out. Stevens invited the man to hit him. "Look, the media's right there."

The man got back in his car and drove off.

Stevens said that in the five weeks he'd been in Auburn, he'd had multiple offers for help and had taken the names and phone numbers of people who offered him furniture and places to stay. He had intended to call some of them, but didn't think he'd bother now because they probably wouldn't help.

He wasn't sure he'd ever come back to his Wal-Mart spot here, but he'd keep the donations of food, clothes and other goods that people had given him since early September.

In researching Thursday's story, the Sun Journal obtained Stevens' driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which noted that his driver's license was indefinitely suspended on Oct. 21 for not having insurance on his vehicle when he had an accident in Augusta. According to Auburn police, Stevens' license is not currently under suspension.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Harold Hartley's picture

I just want to point out

I just want to point out that all those people at Walmart or the Auburn Mall, how many there are sex offenders. Can you tell who they are, NO because they could be from another town and people around Lewiston and Auburn only looks at the list for the LA area. We don't know who or how many that are from out of town.

I have found 4 or 5 sex offenders out at the Auburn Mall hanging around and watching everyone. I don't like it when I see them staring at the kids, but I'm not getting into trouble for harassment either. I'm sure they could find better things to do besides sitting around the Mall doing nothing when they could find odd jobs around making money for themselves and staying out of trouble.

Those that harassed that panhandler could be in trouble because I read in the paper when they show a sex offender in the paper at the bottom it says harassment or threats is against the law.

Michael Hobbs's picture

I realize that you are so

I realize that you are so high and mighty, but when did this article talk about Lewiston? Last I checked it was Auburn people who deem themselves better then everyone. Also, instead of trying to bash Lewiston, how about you stand out there and do a survey to see what the odds are of a Lewiston person pulling over to do such thing.

 's picture

I will accept that you do

I will accept that you do not like this person and do not wish him well. However, just leave him alone. Don't yell, spit throw dangerous things at him, just leave him alone. If enough people like you do that, he'll go somewhere to greener pastures. But it is mean-spirited people like you right wing wackos that create such a hostile environment for everyone else. Learn the civilized way of doing thing.

Terry Frost's picture

Oh pleeeeaaaaaaaaase - he

Oh pleeeeaaaaaaaaase - he can't work my a$$ !!! He's standing around all day holding a sign asking for money - he could easily be direct traffic in a construction zone , be a teller , or a cashier most anywhere . Times are tough all over , pal ! He must be doing OK with the panhandling thing - CarHartt clothing doesnt come cheap , hes clean and has some fairly new glasses . Send your sob story to Obama - he'll take care of you . I'm wondering also if hes claiming all of his donations to the IRS as well .

 's picture

Really? Seems like they've

Really? Seems like they've had a lot of problems over the years. I don't recall Sun Journal being bought out...a couple of times.

 's picture

Well, the difference between

Well, the difference between them & him - they didn't agree to an interview & have it plastered in the paper! I love how everybody is blaming the paper. LOL. Accountability people!

Peter Blake's picture

A sad case, but I had

A sad case, but I had wondered from the beginning why this man and his wife had not accepted the initial help after the fire that displaced them. Something seemed wrong. After reading the Sun Journal article, I found it enlightening about this person. It is sad that people put themselves in such despair. How does someone dig themselves out of such a situation? I may sound harsh and without sympathy, but I believe that it is time for this man to move to another city, etc. He can only enrage the local population by staying in Auburn after the article was published yesterday. This is a situation just waiting to explode. It brings to mind that fact that Auburn doesn't have a law against panhandling. Perhaps Auburn should consider one and make it retroactive to prevent this from continuing as a Reasonable choice I hope you will agree with me. City Council action might be called a knee jerk reaction, however, it might also be considered just catching up to the present time. Certainly, I am glad that the Sun Journal published facts and not opinion.

David Rossi's picture

When Mr Stevens and his wife

When Mr Stevens and his wife were living in their Augusta apartment she was working, he was not. The fire did not change her income so their family income has stayed the same. If they could get by without panhandling before why can't they now? Her income was enough to support them before the fire. It should still be enough. He has turned down offers of work and help from charitable organizations. People who accept that kind of help don't remain homeless for months. By refusing constructive help Mr Stevens has chosen to be in the situation he is in. Maybe it wasn't his choice to end up there but it was his choice not to pick himself up and improve his life.

Audrey Alcala's picture

queenhoneybee......a sex

queenhoneybee......a sex offender is a sex offender.. whether they offend one or many times. I'm a survivor too and am really blown away and insulted that you can sit there and defend sex offenders and claim they each have their own story. you can sit there and preach your holier then thou speech to everyone, but your sex offender defense is an insult to other victims and survivors.

Melissa  Dunn's picture

I forgive my sex offenders

I forgive my sex offenders and even those who were going to sexually offend me. They did their time and had to pay to consequences. Its not just jail time or probation... but loss of their families-the ultimate penalty. I believe that my sex offenders have full, surreal, and honest remorse for what they had done to me. That is a sentence for life. I only ask that they too-can and should start forgiving themselves to live a truly, enriching, satisfying life. As humans we all deserve it. I came to this conclusion all on my own. I am not religious. Heck, I don't even know if there is a God. All I know is that I am human, and that is the greatest privilege of all no matter how traumatic of experiences I've had to endure.

There are 18 yr old boys with a mentality of a 12 yr old that get convicted as a sex offender for having a sexual relationship with a willing 15/16yr old. There are girls that do lie about being sexually abused and admit in later years that they made a mistake. Now this is NOT ALL CASES, however again... every offenders story is different and they should not all be treated the same.

There is nothing greater in the world than being 'free', forgiving, and letting go.

Erin Cox's picture

Lets look at Johns actual

Lets look at Johns actual crime then. He was convicted in 1997 which would have made him 31 at the time. He was convicted of unlawful sexual contact with someone under the age of 14. So at best he was 31 having had some kind of sexual contact with at best a 13 year old. Now as a survior and someone who has dealt with investigations and sentencing of pedophiles I can tell you that this conviction is not something they easily give out. There normally has to be some damning evidence or witnesses to the incident. Persons are not convicted soley on hearsay or testimony. Maine also has some of the lowest standards of sentencing when it comes to sex offenders. National studies show that most sex offenders have multiple victims especially when they involve children. You should also know as a survivor that most sex crimes against children are never reported and worse tolerated by family members who look the other way. The registry was formed to help bring light to an epedmic problem and to force those who would otherwise continue to violate be held accountable. The registry is not about punishing those offenders, IT IS ABOUT HOLDING THEM ACCOUNTABLE

Melissa  Dunn's picture

willING... and in other

willING... and in other states-the maine law may not be the case.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

"Stevens said that in the

"Stevens said that in the five weeks he'd been in Auburn, he'd had multiple offers for help and had taken the names and phone numbers of people who offered him furniture and places to stay. He had intended to call some of them, but didn't think he'd bother now because they probably wouldn't help. " Why didn't he calll those that offered to help. Because panhandleing pays better. If you come across someone with a sign will work for food, stop and offer them a job. They won't take it, because they don't want it they only want the donations.

Melissa  Dunn's picture

I think that this only shows

I think that this only shows all the more reason for why I commented on what I did, when I did in the last article 'Auburn Panhandler Has Criminal History'. There are some people out there that think they know everything and every aspect of a person's life period and eveb more so because they are a registered sex offender-on top of those same people thinking that it is their right to harass, verbal/mental/or physically attack people that they disagree with or sex offenders. Not ALL people and NOT all sex offenders are the same... all stories are different. However, I think a majority of sex offenders are not able to get the RIGHT kind of HELP AND SUPPORT to increase their chances of not re-offending because these 'know-it-all' people just don't want to help (again, whether it be hiring them and even by NOT harassing/attacking them). It is not our right to inflict HATE/HURT among other people in life no matter what they did in the past. That's what the law is for.

This is too bad really. Economic times are tough and its hard for anyone to find a job or do some kind of work. I think part of being a human being is having some compassion and a little more understanding... but all too often people are just too quick to judge. Unfortunately for sex offenders that little thing called 'privacy' doesn't exist no matter how much of an outstanding citizen they may be. I agree that there are some that are high-risk and may not have got the right kind of help. That doesn't entitle anyONE to violate their privacy by posting their personal information, exact addresses where they live, or exact work addresses. This only heightens their risk to be physically attacked or harassed.

This jeopardizes their safety and the safety of their families, no one seems to think that maybe they have children themselves or a wife or maybe even that they live with their mother.

All sex offenders are treated the same and there is no biased when it comes down to the law/sex offender registry. No matter what we do as a society, no matter the precautions we take, no matter what we do to violate another person's privacy... its still going to happen by other people, in another place, in another city.

They only thing that we can do to protect our children and ourselves is to be educated. Maybe self-defense classes or maybe even being a trusting enough of a person that they would come to us if their is an issue. More often times than not, its someone from within the family that offends...

I know its all hard for you all to believe, but there are some out there that don't re-offend. One of the best ways and getting them help-whether it be giving a panhandler money till he gets by to rightfully be on social security because of a physical disability, hiring them-so that they can be working class citizens and not have more stresses, and housing them (in our cities) or our towns to give them a chance at life... all in the sake of making of increasing the possibility statisticallly that some don't re-offend.

Its crucial for an addict to get the right kind of help, what is so different about getting the right kind of help for an offender. All it can do is increase that chance with the right kind of support. I agree that there are some that can not be helped, just like any addict. But we need the resources here for all of them. Every sex offender's story is different.

Yes, call me crazy-go right ahead. However, I know first hand because I am a SURVIVOR (of sexual abuse, rape, and even sexual harassment). I takes a lot of guts to forgive and let go. There is nothing more empowering and NO ONE from SJ who wants to make a rude comment back to me, or society, or anyONE else can take that away from me.

Licia Kuenning's picture

I misunderstood the earlier

I misunderstood the earlier SJ article as saying that John Stevens had invited the SJ to publicize his past. If he only asked for help and the paper used the opportunity to dig up his criminal record and publish that, it was a shabby trick. As for "conservatives," the word seems to have a variety of meanings, but I think of myself as a conservative in many ways, and I try to help people. I'm a follower of Jesus, if that's conservative. If I didn't feel called to contribute to a particular needy person (because one can't help everybody), I certainly wouldn't insult him or spit on him.

ROGER COUTURIER's picture

I applaud the SJ for telling

I applaud the SJ for telling the whole story about this person who lives off of the folks with good intentions and kind hearts. I am surprised that the Auburn police do not consider him a menace to traffic safety standing on the island begging for money. Any car that stops at that intersection to give him cash creates a potential traffic accident. Hopefully he will return to Augusta or where ever. He should get a job but he obviously is not interested in an honest living!

 's picture

Congratulations to the SJ

Congratulations to the SJ for getting its conservative base to run this guy out of town. The brutish behavior condoned by the SJ should give decent people pause. I am grateful that the SJ didn't go as far as O'Reilly did and have this guy killed. Honestly, couldn't you just have seen to it that this guy moved on without resorting to such behavior? We're suppose to be civilized around here. This is not the true Maine.

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