Thursday, July 21, 2011

Downtown Community Weighs in on New Panhandling Program

Posted By on July 21, 2011, 4:00 AM

The Salt Lake City Police Department touted its kinder, gentler approach to dealing with the city’s panhandlers and homeless with members of the Downtown Community Council.---

In April the Homeless Outreach Services Team rolled out bright red meters downtown for citizens donate money into to help homeless service programs as an alternative to giving change to panhandlers. At last night’s meeting deputy chief Michael Brown reviewed the program’s mission to a community council diverse as Salt Lake City’s downtown itself—hosting low-income and homeless residents as well as shopkeepers and business persons.

Brown noted that seven donations meters are in place now with two more to be installed soon, mostly in the downtown area. The meters themselves are sponsored by local businesses with profits collected helping out homeless services administered by the Pamela Atkinson Foundation. Brown reported so far that the metes have collected roughly $1,000.

He also spoke of the other half of the HOST effort which has committed two downtown bike squads to do greater community policing downtown and who have been trained to try and help homeless individuals hook up with service they might need. The officers Brown said are able to approach panhandlers and offer help instead of just tickets. “They’re able to make that initial contact and say ‘Hey listen, Why are you really here? What can we do to help you with this issue, rather than just giving you money to make it through one more day.’” This approach which City Weekly reported on earlier this year, has already shown to be helpful in a number of situations.

In one case a homeless veteran with a substance abuse addiction finally asked officers for help getting into treatment after getting know some of the officers and in another situation Brown says officers helped a woman who fled a violent relationship in Washington, find room at a local shelter.

Attendees to the meeting were generally optimistic about the program while others complained that panhandlers and street kids were still a problem. Don Marsh, a resident of the Road Home men’s shelter argued that in general if police only rely on constitutionally questionable moves like clearing streets with sidewalk loitering tickets that are dismissed later on, then the fundamental issues will never be addressed.

“These are the kinds of practical considerations we’re going to have to have to even be able to survive as a civilization,” Marsh said. “Let’s do it peacefully and with genuine love and see to it that we live good lives and allow other people to do the same.”

Brent Willis a business owner and founder of the HomeInn hotel chain and the homeless housing nonprofit HomeQuest suggested the meters should dispense coupons to visitors that they could then give to panhandlers that would direct them to shelters, pantries and other services. “When a visitor to downtown has something in their hand to offer, other than money than they’re still showing compassion,” Willis said.

Scott Evans owner of Euro Treasures antiques at 470 W. 600 South, is torn between compassion for the rough conditions of street life and how panhandlers affect business downtown. He hopes policymakers “address the real issues but I’m also worried about my business surviving,” Evans says. “I’ve lived in Sandy 23 years and I’m now living downtown and people in my neighborhood out there, they don’t come downtown—they’re afraid to.”

The HOST program, which is still developing and expanding, is still also seeking donations for more meters. A matching donation is still currently being offered by Zion’s bank that will match the fund by $25,000 when it reaches that mark. For info on donating visit the Salt Lake City Police Department’s HOST donation page by clicking here.

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