Downtown Spokane businesses are hoping to discourage drivers and shoppers from giving money to panhandlers through a new public education campaign, launched Thursday, designed to encourage diverting the flow of spare change to the agencies that help the homeless.
It should come as no surprise that the panhandling crowd doesn't like the idea of someone targeting their source of income, which many of them use for alcohol.
“That's all it goes for is alcohol and drugs. It don't go for anything worthwhile,” former panhandler Joe Johnson said.
Some of them, on the other hand, are like Tavis White, who pretended to be needy but spent his cash at the mall.
“Went to the Salvation Army and Goodwill and got some clothes, roughed them up with some rocks and dirt and decided to go and make a little money on the side of the street,” he said.
“As we know from talking with the non-profit leaders, many of them are using it for destructive behaviors and it's not good for them, it's not helping them to a sustainable, better path,” Mark Richard with the Downtown Spokane Partnership said.
Not all panhandlers are just taking advantage of people's generosity. A husband and wife team were working the Division Street off-ramp Thursday; the couple had fallen through the social service cracks.
“We have to stand here and hold a sign everyday just to get a hotel room at night or something to eat,” Dusty said.
Richard went out to meet with the couple Thursday on the curb to talk about their problems to help them find some solutions to their situation.
“My concern is that these folks have fallen through some cracks and I think we have a great group of stakeholders around the table that can help people like these folks, triage through their problems and get them to a better place,” Richard said.
Then there are people like James, who says his mental health problems keep him from holding a steady job and thinks the don't give money to panhandlers campaign isn't necessary.
“We're not out here telling them to give us money, we're not forcing them to give it to us, you know it's all at their discretion, you know they do it all out of the kindness of their hearts and I thank them every day,” James said.
Unfortunately James is camped out at one the gateways to the downtown area. The Lincoln Street off-ramp was recently painted and landscaped to better welcome visitors to our area. Richard worries about panhandlers giving guests a bad first impression.
“Is it an inviting place? Does it feel vibrant? Or conversely, does it feel like Spokane is not a place to make an investment or not a place worth visiting,” he said.
The "Give Real Change" campaign urges motorists to not to give money to individual panhandlers but rather the charitable organizations that can help them with housing, food and shelter or substance abuse problems.
Now, while local businesses are trying to address the problem, keep in mind panhandling is technically illegal in Spokane. There is an ordinance that prohibits panhandlers from reaching across the curb, but isn't enforced unless someone specifically complains about a specific incident.
This "Give Real Change" campaign is coming along when there are more churches and relief agencies working together to solve the issues that put these people on the street in the first place and that's why it may be more effective than an ordinance.