We’re all familiar with the internal debate: Should I help the person on the side of the road or should I keep walking? Do they need help or are they lying? The reasons why people are panhandling vary widely, so there is no easy answer.
A study by the Provo police in 2013 determined that 70 to 80 percent of panhandlers in Provo weren’t homeless. In some cases, panhandlers aren’t even in poverty, but you can’t immediately tell what someone’s circumstances are. Brent Crane, the Executive Director of Food and Care Coalition, recommends relying on common sense, gut instinct, conscience, and local laws and regulations when deciding whether to help a panhandler.
Legally and Lawfully
The Provo City Council unanimously passed an ordinance in 2013 to address concerns about the safety of giving money and other things to panhandlers. The law prohibits transfers from unparked vehicles to a pedestrian on Center Street, state roads, and highways. In March 2017, the Utah State Legislature passed HB161, a bill that prohibits transferring money or property from a car to a pedestrian on roads with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or higher. That means that it is usually legal to give to a panhandler, as long as you are not on a high-speed roadway, disrupting traffic, or breaking any other laws in the process. However, whether you should try to help and how you decide to help someone is still up to you.
Resources Can be More Valuable than Money
There are many ways to help a person besides giving them cash. One Provo resident shared her experience with a panhandler. She came across a man with a cardboard sign while she was out on a walk and noticed that his shirt was dirty and torn. She asked him if he could use a new shirt and walked with him to Deseret Industries to buy him one. No money exchanged hands, but she was able to help him with a real and immediate need that he had. A blanket, coat, backpack, or sleeping bag may be invaluable to someone who is homeless, but you will not know unless you ask.
Another option is to refer panhandlers to an organization that can help meet some of their immediate or long-term needs. Some people carry a sheet listing local resources to share with panhandlers. It may not be as welcomed as money, but it can be a valuable resource for someone who needs long-term help.
Not Every Panhandler is Hungry
Someone who is truly hungry will probably be grateful to receive food. However, in their undercover research, the Provo Police Department discovered that many panhandlers are not interested in community resources and just discard food that they are given. This could be for many reasons. One explanation is that they are not truly in need. Another possibility is that they might need help paying for rent, medical bills, or money to fix their car, but not necessarily help with food. Food is one of the easiest resources to gain access to, with options ranging from food stamps to free hot meals. Before giving someone food, consider asking them what they need. If you cannot provide the help they ask for, you can refer them to a local organization that can.
Refer Them to a Local Organization
The Food and Care Coalition provides hot meals, showers, laundry and many other much-needed services targeted to homeless people. Community Action can provide groceries, emergency shelter, transportation, rental assistance, and financial counseling. There are also other services for those who need help getting into a more stable situation including the Circles Initiative and homebuyer education. One way to ensure your donations are making the most impact is to donate to one of these or other local organizations that can address more needs than you could alone. If you are concerned about your money going to help people who are truly in need, local nonprofit organizations have vetting processes and trained case managers to ensure that their resources are going to the right people. There is also a network of organizations so that nonprofits can address even more needs through collaboration and referrals. One of the easiest ways to find an organization with specific services is to call or text 2-1-1 or visit 211utah.org, an information service provided by the United Way of Utah County.
Panhandlers are People
The woman who bought a shirt for the panhandler she encountered, recalled the interesting conversation she had on their way to the store. On their walk, she was able to talk with him and learn about his life and current situation, an interaction that helped her see him as a real person. Remember that, no matter what they look like or how they act, panhandlers are people who deserve to be treated with respect. Individuals in poverty do not always look the way you might imagine. In fact, many of them probably look a lot like you. Strive to show compassion to everyone you meet, because you never know what they might be going through.
- Posted by Community Action
- On August 15, 2017
- 0 Comments