‘These are not homeless people’
Multimedia campaign on panhandlers begins

       Posters that are starting to appear in businesses around the Westside are a sign that the first phase of an anti-panhandling/pro-charity multimedia campaign is under way.

Members of the Mounted Patrol of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office talk to citizens in the parking lot of the Red Rock shopping center this week. They assist at times with Westside transient issues.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Spearheaded by Westside civic and business leaders who have been meeting over the past year and a half seeking answers to crime problems, the effort urges citizens wanting to help the destitute to give instead to reputable charities.
       “These are not homeless people,” said Welling Clark, president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and a leader of the informal citizen-government group called the Avenue Task Force. “These are professional panhandlers, and 95 to 98 percent of them have homes.”
       Clark added that these statistics are based on local experience with such individuals, chiefly in the area of Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street.
       To announce the multimedia campaign, the Task Force will hold a press conference Thursday, June 6 at 10:30 a.m. at the Red Rock shopping center (West Colorado at 31st Street), near Papa Murphy's.
       Working with the citizens on the effort have been representatives of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs police departments.
       Favorable resolutions have been obtained from the county commissioners and Manitou City Council. The previous Colorado Springs City Council gave an informal thumbs-up last fall; Clark said a formal resolution is being sought from the current council.
       The first phase of the campaign is a poster that's being made available electronically as well as in three different printed varieties. Two are posters (sized 8 ½ by 11 inches and 11 by 17 inches). Another type is a “stuffer” that shows the contact numbers for several charities on the back. Businesses are being requested to put the posters by their cash registers and/or give the “stuffers” to customers who want them.
       The front side on all the documents bears the lead message: “Don't Give Money to Panhandlers,” followed by the request that people “donate to charities that can truly help. Give a hand up, not a hand-out.”
       Another document statement is that panhandling is a “lucrative business. Your handouts usually go to alcohol and drugs.”
       A graphic on the posters and stuffer shows someone being loaded into an ambulance with the statement, “This $5 handout just cost us $2970+ in emergency services” - a reference to the estimated cost of providing health care to an uninsured panhandler who overdoses on the street.
       Clark admitted he's heard feedback from a few people that the task force's message is “mean” in spirit, but compared to the support that's been received, he thinks people saying that represent “just a minority.” At public meetings on the Westside last year, numerous people spoke up about negative encounters with aggressive panhandlers, including physical intimidation and women being followed to their cars after leaving stores.
       In addition, businesses have reported loss of business because shoppers feel intimidated by large numbers of vagrants. Nearby residential areas have seen increased thievery, according to task force information.
       Laws allow panhandlers to ply their trade on public property, but no closer than 20 feet from a building entrance. Begging on private property such as a shopping center is trespassing. Also, a panhandler can only ask for help from a person once; beyond that it's aggressive panhandling, a criminal offense, according to city code.
       Regarding charities, the current edition of the annual Colorado Springs Survival Manual lists 11 places that provide shelter, 15 that give food and various others that offer such aid as clothing, legal help and health care.

Westside Pioneer article