Colorado Springs is launching a new program aimed at stemming panhandling and pushing money toward local aid agencies. City officials say it’s designed to encourage effective giving.
New signs have gone up across the city that read “Handouts Don’t Help,” and offer a number to text to donate directly to service providers. All proceeds go to the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, a network of local agencies providing housing, food, and other assistance to those experiencing homelessness.
City Council President Richard Skorman says the new campaign aims to guide donations in more accountable directions.
"The dollar that you spend by giving a panhandler money is not always money that’s directed towards a good solution," he explains. "What we know is that when you give a dollar to a great service organization like we have in the community, that money goes directly to helping them."
Larry Yonkers, CEO of Colorado Springs Rescue Mission, says he doesn't expect the program to generate a large amount of money, but says that's not the point.
"The point is really how much will it raise awareness in the community that we need to do something. Everybody needs to do something."
Yonkers adds that he isn't categorically opposed to giving money directly to panhandlers, saying that people should "follow whatever they feel in their heart" when it comes to helping those in need. Nevertheless, he stresses that when giving money on the street, "you don't know what's going to happen to it."
The campaign is the latest in a string of efforts aimed at curbing panhandling in the city, including an outright ban on the practice -- which was deemed unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court -- as well as ordinances against lying on sidewalks and standing in certain medians.
But not everyone agrees that attacking panhandling is the right approach to addressing homelessness in the city. Cathy Alderman with the Denver-based Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, says she worries the effort could dissuade people from giving altogether.
More info about the campaign is available at helpCOS.org