Panhandler (stock)

City officials, activists, nonprofits converge to finalize plan to curb panhandling

The panhandling problem in District 10/Lake Highlands is concentrated mostly in the northern regions. Skillman near I-635, both sides, and Abrams near I-635, including corners, overpasses and surrounding businesses, are popular places for people of varying shapes, sizes, colors, genders and states of health and hygiene to post-up and ask passers by for money.

Some are friendly and gentle and honest; others are aggressive to the point of concern, neighbors say. (One rather persistent guy might show up every time you are pumping gas with a different story about the hospital wristband he is wearing.)

Community leaders and activists who have been working for months to address the issues of panhandling— especially as it relates to local proprietors’ ability to conduct business — and homeless encampments in the area, say they hope they are getting closer to holistic solutions.

That includes the implementation of Northeast Dallas community court, where people cited for misdemeanors such as sleeping in public or panhandling can more easily honor court appearances and, while there, learn about social services that might help them. Community court is held each Monday in a nondescript office building at I-635 near Abrams.

It also includes an awareness effort that would prevent citizens from handing out cash to panhandlers, including informational signage in the affected spaces, councilman Adam McGough has said.

Instead, research local nonprofits that help the indigent and homeless in our neighborhood, and give to them, as experts suggest. Police maintain that stopping for panhandlers can put one in danger, and they remind us that panhandling is illegal.

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.

Chuck Stegman of Jackson Meadow, a very active member of his neighborhood association, has said 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 (he says they have seen) disbanded.

Encouraging the behaviors of loitering and panhandling is hurting business in the area, according to the Lake Highlands Chamber, which last summer presented some 30 petitions from area businesses asking for a police task force to help enforce panhandling and trespassing laws.

At that time, McGough told neighbors to continue calling Dallas Police Department or 9-1-1 to report panhandlers, even though many residents have complained that doing so hasn’t made a difference.

“Please keep calling DPD,” McGough noted at the time. “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.”

McGough at a recent meeting said progress is slow, but he says he is forging forward with efforts to address the problem, which has many facets. That’s why he is involving so many different groups in finding a solution.

Today he reports via social media a “Panhandling initiative update: Staff will be meeting with representative from Stew Pot, The Bridge Homeless Recovery CenterAustin Street Center, Dallas Life, Union Gospel Mission Dallas, Our Calling, Goodwill Dallas Employment Program and the Salvation Army Texas to finalize the details of the program. It is staff’s intention to implement this initiative at the end of January. Our office will be sure to keep everyone posted on this initiative.”