Dallas Is Trying to Handle the Panhandlers… Again.
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Dallas has tried to get a grip on its panhandling problem for years, but it’s not as easy as throwing people off the street. The city has to weigh the quality of life desired by the residents against the constitutional rights of the fraudsters. The city is looking for strategies that will not get them into legal hot water.
Districts 11, 12 and 14 had the most panhandling service requests last year. This emerges from a presentation due to be presented to the city council on Wednesday on how to deal with panhandlers.
“It was really just problematic for a lot of my neighbors and people who live in this neighborhood,” said Lee Kleinman, councilor for District 11. “It’s not without compassion. The people who live here want to help the homeless [populations] and want to move them to temporary shelters and permanent housing, but they also lose tolerance for the aggressive behavior. “
According to the presentation, the courts have stated that asking for help, including asking for money, is a protected speech under the First Amendment. This makes it difficult to prohibit “aggressive panhandling”, to prohibit activity in certain areas and times, or to require panhandlers to obtain permission.
However, what Dallas can do is enforce the existing regulations and state law, change some of those regulations and adopt new ones and implement more supportive solutions.
Kleinman said a lack of resources for scammers is not an issue in Dallas.
The Dallas Police Department cites and arrests fraudsters. The community courts help these people with their quotes, address their crimes, and connect them to services that help with homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and mental illness.
The Dallas Marshal’s Office is developing a program in the city’s detention center that connects people with services as well. The Office of Community Care launched the End Panhandling Now initiative in 2018 to offer panhandlers social services and discourage the public from giving them money.
Some are able to meet basic needs such as food and shelter, or because they are homeless or mentally ill and unable to have a job or connect to proper social services.
Others do it because they can make up to $ 300 a day.
“I’ve seen homeless people pull loads of money out of their pockets and say, ‘Why should I leave this corner when I’m making so much money?'” Says Kleinman.
The city can regulate illegal panhandling-related activities such as rubbish, obstruction of traffic, or urinating and defecating in public. Further advertising regulations that are tightly tailored and neutral in terms of content can be constitutionally founded as long as there is a compelling government interest.
Criminalizing panhandling, however, can make the problem worse as it leads to unpaid citations and pending arrest warrants that ultimately make it difficult for individuals to find a home or job.
Dallas is considering strategies to address the root causes of panhandling and exploring various approaches that are being tested across the country.
Other cities like Albuquerque and Philadelphia have launched programs that allow would-be scammers to work for the city and earn a daily wage. These programs also connect people to social services. Instead of begging for money, individuals would participate in community beautification services.
In 2015, Albuquerque donated $ 50,000 to a local hospitality center to help start the There’s A Better Way. As part of the program, a city worker leaves at 7 a.m. every morning and drives around to pick up potential scammers to offer them a day’s work, according to Bloomberg. People picked up are paid $ 9 an hour, slightly more than the city’s minimum wage. Usually they pick up trash or clear weeds. The city donated the van and the $ 50,000 pays the driver and workers’ wages.
The people picked up do not have to show identification or fill out forms. They are fed lunch and snacks and given water throughout the day. In about a year, Bloomberg said the program planned 932 day shifts for 302 homeless people.
Some also use technology to help people give directly to scammers. A program that uses an app called Samaritan provides qualified individuals with a key fob that acts as a smart wallet. People can donate money to potential scammers through the Samaritan app. The funds can only be used to pay for certain things such as groceries at partner companies. In order to spend the money on something else, the individual must have it approved by a consultant.
Wayne Walker, executive director and pastor of OurCalling, says his organization was approached about participating in the launch of the Samaritan app in Dallas. The problem, he says, is that all things people can buy using the app are already free from other service providers in the city. OurCalling has had an app (found here) for years that allows people to donate and volunteer to help curb homelessness. “If people were to use this app, it would help people get off the street,” says Walker.
He says he meets a lot of people who destroy their lives with the money they get out of car windows. It drives the drug and sex trafficking, Walker says. He has personally met thousands of people affected by homelessness in Dallas over the past 20 years. Of all of them, only one person paid their rent and license with panhandling money. He said any form of panhandling, digital or personal, isn’t the most productive way to get people off the streets.
Other suggestions include allowing people to purchase vouchers that they can give to scammers that can be redeemed for housing, transportation, and other necessities, and modify the physical environment to prevent scammers from being treated.
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