Panhandler (stock)

Panhandler (stock)

That’s what several neighborhood leaders, Lake Highlands Chamber members, District 10’s councilman and other experts suggest, anyway.

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The frustration-fueled buzz is building on social media groups, Facebook and NextDoor included, concerning aggressive panhandling and other problems in sections of northeast Dallas and northern Lake Highlands.

Last month we spoke with longtime neighborhood resident Chuck Stegman who is working with police, the Lake Highlands Chamber and other neighborhood leaders to clean up and increase safety near his home in Jackson Meadow, which is south of Richland College.

One of the area’s biggest challenges, he notes, is aggressive panhandlers. He says neighbors have discussed various ways to address panhandling including posting “Panhandling is Illegal” signs in problem areas or even pushing a city ordinance to make giving to panhandlers illegal.

Though my bleeding little heart winces at the thought, many of those who understand and see poverty and homelessness up close agree that giving money to those begging for it on the street is not the best way to help, and, some say, it increases problems, puts people in danger and harms area businesses.

In fact, Stegman says his wife is a former psychiatric nurse who understands that homelessness and mental illness often go hand-in-hand; they are not without compassion, yet they would like to see panhandling stopped and nearby homeless camps disbanded.

The LH Chamber presented some 30 petitions from area businesses asking for a police task force to help enforce panhandling and trespassing laws.

Says Stegman of Chamber members, business owners and other leaders who attended a meeting to address the topic, “We ask all neighbors not to give money to panhandlers.”

Police warn that giving to panhandlers can be dangerous. “We recognize that the great citizens of Dallas care about those who are in need of assistance, but would you willingly invite a violent convicted felon into your vehicle,” police asked in a February press release. “Not all of those who panhandle will be convicted felons or violent offenders, but the risk is very real when you open your window and your wallet that you will encounter an individual with a dangerous criminal history.”

A couple years ago, after a couple videos of scammy panhandlers went viral, Time magazine took a close look at the best ways to handle a panhandlerWhile Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, urges people not to assume every panhandler they encounter is a scam artist, Steve Berg, vice president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness says giving money to a person on the street won’t really fix anything.

“It might make life a little easier,” he said, “but it’s not going to solve their homelessness and it’s not going to solve the whole community’s problem with homelessness.” (For the record, the two aforementioned did not recommend against giving something to those on the street.)

Instead, Berg urges concerned citizens to support anti-homelessness policies that have been proven to work.

Most of the experts suggest researching local nonprofits that help the indigent and homeless in our neighborhood, and give to them.

When Lake Highlands neighbors brought the problem — panhandlers in the street on the I-635 service road, some of them pushy and aggressive — to the attention of Adam McGough, our city council representative, he suggested neighbors keep calling Dallas Police Department or 9-1-1 to report panhandlers, even though many residents complain that doing so hasn’t made a difference.

“Please keep calling DPD,” McGough notes. “I am trying everything I can. We must continue to document to get the attention. We must stop people from giving money to these folks. It does not help anyone. Will continue to work on this. I am frustrated too.”

A 2011 article in the Atlantic Magazine posed the question: Should You Give Money to Homeless People? “The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, but only if you work for an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.”

The article examines the pros and cons and the moral dilemmas 

It asserts ultimately that giving cash to a panhandler does provide instant gratification to both the giver and recipient, but does no real good when it comes to the root problem.

“If we drop change in a beggar’s hand without donating to a charity, we’re acting to relieve our guilt rather than underlying crisis of poverty. The same calculus applies to the beggar who relies on panhandling for a booze hit. In short, both sides fail each other by being lured into fleeting sense of relief rather than a lasting solution to the structural problem of homelessness.”

We will continue to follow to city and community response. Please email if you have something to add.