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Councilmember Leventhal Launches New Initiative to Discourage Panhandling

On September 9, I , along with the County Executive Leggett gathered in downtown Wheaton to announce a new initiative to discourage drivers from giving directly to panhandlers, and instead, to give to charities which can more effectively address the root causes of homelessness for those who solicit in our medians and roads.

Montgomery County residents are among the most generous individuals in the entire country. We all want to help the panhandlers we see on the side of the road. The question isn’t whether to help, it’s how. And now, there is a safer and more effective way to give to panhandlers.

Residents can now text the word SHARE to 80077 on their mobile phones to give $5 to the Community Foundation of Montgomery Foundation. The monies collected through the foundation will be dispersed to organizations which have a proven record of helping those in need. Organizations like the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, Bethesda Cares, and more.

We had a tragic situation this spring where a panhandler was killed when she was struck by a vehicle while begging in the median strip in Wheaton. We don’t want any more deaths. We want our residents to give to the poor, but we want them to do it in a way which is safe for everyone involved.

Giving directly to panhandlers does not keep them off the streets. Most of the panhandlers you see are at the same intersection day after day after day. When this occurs, you have to ask yourself, am I really helping this person? We want to help these people by connecting them to the resources that they really need: A warm bed, a stable job, and courseling. We have better ways of helping panhandlers than to give them a dollar or two that will not address the causes of their homelessness.

This initiative is the result of many years of work and study to determine how the county might best provide assistance to panhandlers who are truly homeless. The text-to-give program isn't a silver bullet to eliminate panhandling. The only way to truly end panhandling is to stop giving, but I’m proud that we settled on a means of further reducing panhandling that maintains our compassion towards the homeless.

 




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