Giving to panhandlers claiming to be homeless or hungry might make you feel good, but Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said doing so is likely only feeding a larger community problem.
“We also know from our contacts with many of the panhandlers that there is a large degree that are opiate addicted,” she said. “Providing donation on the spot may be an immediate win-win, but would you rather provide a donation that supports long-term, sustainable addressing of those issues or provide money for the next quick fix.”
Dickstein a few months ago helped unveil Real Change Dayton campaign to address the local increase in panhandling following a 2015 Supreme Court decision.
The campaign includes a text-to-give campaign, a new awareness website, the use of billboards and the use of retired parking meters donated by the city of Dayton to collect funds for the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area.
Dickstein said aggressive panhandlers and street solicitors are among the top complaints the city receives.
“Since the Supreme Court challenge, we have seen an explosion of panhandlers in our neighborhoods and in our streets suggesting that this is clearly an organized effort of some sort,” Dickstein said. “By whom and where that money is actually going though, remains to be figured out.”
Tracy Sibbing, vice president of community impact at United Way, said a network is in place to help those in need.
It is key to support agencies that provide unhealthy and needy people a path forward to stability, she said.
“Tell a friend. Tell a neighbor. Tell anybody. Tell your co-worker. This is really about educating the public. It is a community collaborative,” Sibbing said. “We don’t do this unless we all participate, and we come together to get it done.”
The coalition organized by the Downtown Dayton Partnership that includes the City of Dayton, Dayton police, the United Way and a bevy of health and human services nonprofits started working on the Real Change Dayton campaign last fall, Sandy Gudorf, DDP’s president, said.
The meters are painted red and are strategically placed in high traffic areas like the Oregon District, on Brown Street and near Fifth Third Field.
Money collected will be given to the United Way.
“There is a better way to give,” she said. "We know we are a generous community.”
Officials pointed out that panhandling is not just a Dayton problem and not just restricted to high traffic areas.
David Bohardt, St. Vincent de Paul’s executive director and one of several social service representatives involved in the campaign, plans to work on the issue as it relates to the faith-based community.
Officials say panhandlers have targeted churches in Beavercreek, Springboro and throughout the Miami Valley following church services when parishioners are most generous.
“It is in the city. It is in the suburbs. It is all over,” Bohardt said.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OLD LAW
The city started cracking down on panhandlers in 2011 with a controversial law that had panhandlers who violated the law jailed instead of citing them.
Solicitors were required to register and obtain permits. Begging times were restricted to certain hours.
In July 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on content-based speech are unconstitutional. Following that ruling, several federal appellate courts ruled anti-panhandling regulations violate freedom of speech protections.
The city of Dayton axed its registration program in July of 2016. More than 1,140 panhandlers were arrested in the city, mostly for registration-related offenses under the law.
The city’s ordinance now prohibits distribution of any item with an occupant of a vehicle in the right-of-way if he or she is stopped at a traffic signal.
Dayton police Maj. Wendy Stivers urged people to call the police if they are followed or touched by a persistent panhandler.
Tom Maultsby, United Way of Greater Dayton’s president and CEO, said that ultimately people have the power to not “help the problem.”
“When you really begin to assess the situation, there really is only one thing that we can control or try to control and that is whether or not people on the street are given dollars or change,” he said. “ As long as the supply is there, the demand will be there.”
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