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Mayor, police chief voice concern over panhandling

SPOKANE, Wash. - Panhandling took center stage in Spokane on Monday.

While honoring two non-profits for their work during the winter, Mayor David Condon and Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl reaffirmed their mission to stop panhandling, while they emphasized the importance of the city's Give Real Change program.

Since it started two years ago, Give Real Change has raised $20,000 for local agencies that work with Spokane's homeless, encouraging people to donate instead of giving directly to the homeless.

At a press conference Monday, Meidl said Spokane's kindness may be crippling the city.

"We have a very compassionate city. I mean, this is a city, when it comes to compassion, this is second to none," Meidl said. "When we're giving directly to that individual, while it makes us feel good, really what we're doing is fueling those poor habits and those addictions."

Meidl said some men and women asking for money turn around and spend it on drugs or alcohol, perpetuating a cycle so many non-profits work to end.

"In the process of giving directly to the panhandlers, they're fueling some really bad habits and some addictions these panhandlers are struggling with," he said. "With Give Real Change, you don't have to worry about that."

Condon recognized The Guardian Foundation and The Salvation Army for opening their warming centers during the winter before going on to mention the importance of donating to Give Real Change by calling 311, plugging the orange meters around Spokane, or rounding up your utility bill.

"We're trying to  get this program to grow, to become more robust, trying to get more people to give directly to these programs, or to the charities as opposed to the individuals," Meidl said. "So it's our hope that it will just continue to grow and grow."

Barbara Larson, a formerly homeless woman who knows firsthand what it's like to panhandle, was at Monday's press conference. She told KXLY the issue isn't so black-and-white.

"There are people that, you know, panhandle for the wrong reasons and then there are people that panhandle because they're hungry and they need something," she said. "I'm not gonna give up on them, and I think Spokane shouldn't give up on them either, because they've got a lot."


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