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News Blog

Downtown Community Weighs in on New Panhandling Program

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2011-07-21 -

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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Posted // July 22,2011 at 12:11 I lived in the Gateway apartments for almost two years, and daily saw the homeless congregate at the major intersections of the connected, outdoor Gateway Mall. I gave money routinely to one guy there in a wheelchair, Bill.
Bill's story was that he used to own a successful business, but because of drugs and alcohol -- and his wife supposedly stealing most of his money -- he was now on the streets. Bill, somewhere in his 50s, sits in a wheelchair because of an old war injury; if he puts too much weight on his leg, the wound supposedly reopens and festers.
Bill was an effective panhandler because of the wheelchair, the fact that he never verbally asked for money -- instead quietly sitting there with a cardboard sign that read "Please help this veteran," his gaze buried in a paperback novel. Bill told me he could easily clear $200 a day if the mall was full of shoppers. Or roll away with $5 on a rainy or cold day.
I had a lot of conversations with Bill. About his dependence on the VA for his wheelchairs and meds. About his no longer doing alcohol or drugs, and hoping to one day see his kids again. About his hatred of the nearby homeless shelter because of their supposed favoritism and reselling of donated items that were supposed to go to guys like him. About his refusing to follow "stupid rules" demanded by the shelter and "the government" -- which pretty much guaranteed that Bill remained on the streets. "I'd rather sit right here, than follow their rules," he admitted, his grin showing his missing teeth. "They can't take away my dignity. I have rights."
Every time we chatted, I asked him about the other panhandlers. Bill was pretty pissed off that others were starting to use wheelchairs. "That girl over there," he'd say, "gets picked up by her mom every night. She doesn't even need the wheelchair. And that one brings her kid because it helps her get sympathy." Others bring dogs.
"What about that girl?" I asked him once. "Oh, we shun that one," he said. "She told people she was pregnant to get sympathy, but she wasn't." Pausing, he added, "She really is pregnant now, but we don't care."
Obviously, there are guidelines among the homeless community about what is/isn't acceptable behavior.
Bill became a real person to me, but I will admit I got tired of his tales, when it became obvious they were intended to manipulate me. And I stopped giving to him -- emotionally and monetarily -- the day I finally caught him lying to me.
Anyway, I think these meters are a great idea. A way to help the problem, without making judgement calls, or losing one's desire to help because you suddenly realized you were being used and manipulated.


Posted // July 26,2011 at 11:13 - I stopped listening to "homeless stories" long ago. They're all manipulative liars that will tell you anything to part you from your money. This Bill guy would rather sit around, doing nothing but manipulating people that work for a living, than follow a few rules in order to play society's game and become independent? That's not surprising. What he doesn't know is that he has no dignity to preserve by doing so. If you're a lying bum sitting on a street corner stealing from people via lies and manipulation, you have no dignity to begin with. These meters will do nothing to help with the homeless issue. It won't change their lazy mindset, won't curb their addictions (which I care nothing for other than thinking they should pay for their own high), won't encourage them to play the same dull game the rest of us have to play in order to pay our own way through life, and won't stop them from being lazy thieves - it will do as any other form of monetary charity does: preserve and maintain the entitlement mentality.


Posted // July 24,2011 at 21:44 - all this talk about fucking is making me horny


Posted // July 24,2011 at 21:42 - oh mr. willis. all this talk about fucking makes me want to fuck, just like you fuck us out of our money. i am cumming .


Posted // July 21,2011 at 10:35 Who gives a fuck what Brent Willis has to say about homelessness. He is a fucking poverty pimp making a profit off the homlessness in our community under the guise of "Mormon compassion."


Posted // July 24,2011 at 21:46 - oh mr. willis. all this talk about fucking makes me want to fuck, just like you fuck us out of our money. i am cumming .


Posted // July 21,2011 at 15:12 - You give a fuck, apparently, Mr. Fuckedy Fuck.