The Tri-Cities is a generous community, but when it comes to panhandling, we think Kennewick’s effort to discourage roadside begging is spot on.
Last week city workers posted 23 signs in 17 busy locations telling people not to give money directly to panhandlers and instead “contribute to the solution” by giving money to charities.
It would be great if this experiment reduces the number of panhandlers at city intersections. If it also boosts donations to organizations that help the homeless and hungry, then it’s even better.
While the Tri-Cities does not have the homeless problems facing bigger cities like Seattle and Portland, panhandling has become more prevalent in certain areas – especially during these summer months.
People holding signs on street corners looking for handouts pose a moral dilemma.
Their sad plight pulls on our hearts and we want to help them. But then we have to ask ourselves: Will they use the money to feed an addiction instead of their bellies? Are they really poor or are they pulling a scam?
There is no way to know for sure.
But one thing is certain, giving a few dollars to someone who is broke isn’t going to solve the root cause of their problems.
What they really need is a job, a home and – more than likely – health services. If we really want to help the hungry and homeless, there are better ways than giving money directly to a panhandler.
Andrew Porter, executive director of the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission in Pasco, suggests giving out the printable “rescue card” found on the organization’s website. It provides the address and phone number of the mission and a list of the services it provides.
Also, the mission’s website suggests that if people feel compelled to help people begging on the corner, they should stock their car with “homeless packs” with items like bottled water, socks, toiletries and packaged food like granola bars.
In addition to the mission, there are many other community groups that feed and take care of the poor – like the Salvation Army, the Tri-Cities Food Bank, Dayspring Ministries, St. Vincent De Paul and Grace Clinic, which provides free medical care.
Kennewick city officials have said that the main reason they want to curb panhandling is that it has become a safety issue.
When drivers stop to hand money to a panhandler, they create unexpected traffic hazards for other cars. The situation also puts panhandlers at risk when they step into traffic to receive the donation.
It is hard to know how well the new signs will work, but they are worth a try.
If people follow the suggestion and stop giving money directly to those begging behind cardboard signs, the scammers, at least, may move on.
For those panhandlers truly in need, we hope they can find their way to an organization that can help them. Then perhaps they can get started on the road to recovery instead of a life on the street.