Panhandling is a problem in The Energy Corridor and throughout Houston, but Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city’s Department of Health and Human Services are asking residents to think twice about handing money to a panhadler.
To end panhandling in Houston, address the underlying issues causing the problem.
- Studies have shown that a chronically homeless individual can cost taxpayers more than $40,000 each year, cycling in and out of: jail, hospital emergency rooms, prisons, detox programs, etc.
- The same studies show that housing a chronically homeless individual costs approximately $20,000 each year for housing subsidy and supportive services.
- When you donate to The Welcome Home Fund, every dollar goes directly to benefit the client (no administrative costs are charged aside from standard credit card fees).
- The Welcome Home Fund provides housing needs that a homeless individual won’t have such as: furniture, household basics (think coffee pots, dishes, shower curtains, etc.), and one-time leasing and utility fees and deposits.
The panhandling "industry" is perpetuated by the well-intentioned among us who respond to those outstretched hands in this way. The already significant problem is growing worse. Houston Police Department received 1,548 complaints about panhandlers in 2016, the office of Mike Knox, an at-large City Council member and former Houston Police officer, told Chronicle reporter Andrew Kragie. This is more than twice as many as the 783 received in 2015.
The city's Meaningful Change campaign has highlighted the work of the Coalition for Homeless, which includes nearly 100 public and private partners. The coalition has established a fundraising initiative it calls the "Welcome Home Fund."
As noted in the web site MeaningfulChange.org, every dollar donated goes directly to "helping clients move into permanent housing, and provides furniture, household basics and one-time fees and deposits."
Alternatively, there are many effective nonprofits in Houston such as Search Homeless Services, which works to alleviate the problems underlying homelessness or Covenant House, which provides similar services for Houston's youth.
Underlying the city's campaign is a growing recognition that it's not enough for organizations like these to understand how people end up homeless. The rest of us need to build our awareness, too, so that we can appreciate why handing a buck to a seemingly downtrodden person on a street corner is not the answer to the homeless problem our city faces. Substance abuse is frequently a cause. So is mental illness. Sometimes it's just life that happens. The Meaningful Change campaign and the ongoing work of the Coalition for the Homeless will strengthen the city's social safety net to help this unfortunate group pick up the pieces.
Public safety is a concern, too. While some panhandlers are people who truly find themselves in a situation of unexpected crisis and are merely asking another human being for help, others are part of organized panhandling rings whose menacing tactics may make certain areas of town inhospitable.
But there should be a middle ground that balances public safety with human dignity, and Meaningful Change is part of that solution.
The Pope gives this advice as to giving to people begging on the streets. Speaking to Scarp de' Tenis, which means Tennis Shoes, a monthly magazine for and about the homeless and marginalized in Milan, the pope said that giving something to someone in need is "always right."
Giving is always right, but some gifts have the potential to help troubled people transform their lives.