’Tis the season of giving — but not to panhandlers, officials say.
Instead, give to homeless services providers, like The Road Home and Volunteers for America, who can stretch those dollars further.
For the second time in six months, state, city and non-profit entities are asking the public not to directly give money, clothing or food to homeless people. And they cite a host of reasons, including public safety and health concerns.
But the notion that money given to people on the street contributes to drug and alcohol addiction — as some have said — is disparaging the entire homeless community, said Glenn Bailey of Crossroads Urban Center.
There is no evidence, he said, to show that all panhandlers are drug addicts. And for some, panhandling provides their only access to cash.
Nonetheless, officials urged those feeling generous to give money where it will do most good — service providers.
“We are the most generous state in the nation,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at a news conference Monday. “People want to help and, unfortunately sometimes, we do more harm than good.”
Among other things, people bringing food and clothing to areas where the homeless congregate may unknowingly create problems.
Gary Edwards of the Salt Lake County Health Department said food that is prepared in kitchens that are not inspected may lead to illness. Facilities, such as St. Vincent DePaul dining hall, that are inspected regularly are better at providing nutrition.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said that when people come downtown to donate clothes to the homeless on the street it can lead to arguments and fights. And, in the end, many of the items are discarded, leading to a garbage problem. It’s much better to donate clothing through The Road Home or other providers, such as Crossroads Urban Center, officials said.
Kathy Bray, the executive director of Volunteers of America – Utah, urged the public to give to service providers, such as the Fourth Street Clinic, Catholic Community Services and others. (A list of providers can be found at slchost.org)
“Please give to service providers. We have created systems for donations and distribution,” Bray said. “I want to let the community know we are appreciative of their generosity.”
Cox also took note of the opioid and heroin epidemic that plagues some in the homeless population. He quoted homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson as saying the money given by well-meaning people to panhandlers who are addicted may end up killing them.
“Check that impulse,” Cox said, “give to providers.”
The message harks back to a similar news conference in July when officials announced new billboards downtown that say such things as, “Support panhandlers and you support drug trafficking.”
“That whole campaign is unfortunate,” Bailey said Monday of the billboards. “They say, ‘Don’t Help.’ That’s a terrible message when we have so much misery on the streets.”
Bailey concedes that panhandling is irritating and a nuisance. “But if you are destitute and aren’t able to work for some reason, there is no easily accessible financial alternative for those people.”