Everyone's been there, sitting at the traffic light or walking into the store with that panhandler asking for money. That small feeling of guilt comes, as does the thought that “Giving this guy a dollar or two won’t hurt me.”
Then, of course, there is the panhandler who approaches with some excuse – the old “I ran out of gas” routine.
But more and more, people are getting fed up and annoyed. The panhandlers seem to be everywhere and there seems to be no escaping the odd confrontation during the walk from a car to the store entrance.
Coming soon, Turlock may just have a plan.
During Thursday's Coffee with the Chiefs meeting, Turlock Police Chief Robert Jackson says the Police Department is working with the Turlock Chamber of Commerce to introduce a new anti-aggressive panhandling ordinance to the city council in January.
Aggressive panhandling could include when the panhandler approaches someone physically or when they repeatedly ask for money.
Jackson says educational and marketing campaigns will be launched, known as “Make Your Change Count” and “No Means No.”
The idea of Make Your Change Count is that the money given to panhandlers can be better directed to organizations like homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation programs and housing services.
Jackson explained that during a recent meeting with officials from organizations like the Salvation Army, We Care Foundation, and the Turlock Gospel Mission, it was learned that some panhandlers have made as much as $1,000 a day and will openly brag about how the amount of drugs they can purchase.
“We have a wonderful town and people here are so giving and they want to help, but you’re not helping them,” Jackson said. “You're being an enabler and actually hurting them.
“I’m not saying there are no people down on their luck, but the vast majority of panhandlers have drug and alcohol addictions, and they are using the money to supply their addiction. People that give them money are being shamed.”
Of course, Jackson acknowledged that people may still give panhandlers money and that it is certainly not the government’s place to inhibit free speech or tell people who they can give money to.
In a further effort to divert money from the pockets of panhandlers, Jackson says the campaign may recruit volunteers to stand or sit directly next to panhandlers at intersections or freeway exits with signs reading something to the effect of “don’t help support their drug habit.” The volunteers may also pass out informational flyers.
Jackson says police can also increase enforcement of existing laws and use those to deter panhandlers with citations, or even misdemeanor charges given the circumstances.