Recently we have experienced an increase in people panhandling in our community. Most of us want to be compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate, but most of us are also unsure of what is really helpful. To gain a better insight on this issue for myself and for the community I interviewed Charlie Lanter, the Director of Lexington’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention (OHPI), for a Council Comment video (below) about constructive responses to people panhandling.
Below are the front and back sides of the “Change for the Better” cards Charlie displays and refers to in the video. You can request cards for your organization by emailing Charlie at clanter(at)lexingtonky.gov.
Here are some of the helpful insights I learned from Charlie:
- Giving cash directly to people panhandling can do more harm than good. Providing direct cash can enable destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse. Cash on-hand can also undermine a person’s willingness to accept long-term, professional, and productive assistance.
- Lexington, through the excellent work of OHPI and our network of nonprofits, now has adequate resources and the capacity to assist those who are homeless and others in need. No one has to be stuck on the streets or without food.
- Many of those who are homeless do not like panhandling, and many people who panhandle are not homeless.
- You can connect homeless people and others in need to professional services by calling or texting 211, a centralized intake and referral service.
Also, as those following the news might know, panhandling in the street and at intersections is currently illegal in Lexington according to Section 14.5 of the Code of Ordinances. That ordinance has been challenged and is currently under review by the Kentucky Supreme Court. You can read more on that story in the Herald-Leader here. A Jefferson County District Court struck down Louisville’s panhandling law on October 13, 2016. More on that story in the Courier-Journal here.