September 11, 2013

Give a Hand-Up, Not a Hand-Out


A joint public education campaign to address panhandling in Montgomery County has been introduced by County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmember George Leventhal. Homeless advocates and grassroots social service agencies, the faith community and the Police joined the elected officials at the launch.

The announcement was made next to the busy intersection of Georgia Ave. and Veirs Mill Rd. where known panhandler Mary Josephine Fish, aged 52, was killed last May 16 when an automobile jumped the median and struck her.

“Panhandling is not safe and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help them,” said Leventhal, who chairs the Council Health & Human Services Committee.“We all know the feeling. We want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We feel guilty. We all want to help. The question isn’t whether to help – it’s how."

“I hear a lot from residents who are concerned about the proliferation of panhandlers at intersections throughout the County,” said Leggett. “I agree that the status quo is unacceptable. Even though panhandling is legal under the First Amendment and Maryland law, it is not a safe thing to do and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help.”

By texting “SHARE” on their cell phones to 80077, persons wanting to help can contribute $5 to the Community Foundation for Montgomery County, a non-profit, non-government organization that will distribute the proceeds to grassroots efforts in Montgomery County to really help those in need.

Contributions also may be sent to the Community Foundation for Montgomery County, 8720 Georgia Ave., Suite 202, Silver Spring, MD 20910, or residents may choose to give to the community or faith-based agency of their choice.



Read more about the campaign in the news release.

Get details about how to help, plus, read the laws and see press coverage about the campaign on the panhandling website.

Watch the video to hear why panhandling isn’t safe and why it doesn’t help from local law enforcement, non-profit and elected officials.

11 comments:

  1. Pandhandling is the only way some people who may be homeless know how to get money and/or services. Lawmakers and county officials snub their colective noses at the homeless, and ignore the fact that panhandling is legal under the First Amendment and Maryland law. saying that it is not a safe thing to do and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help is the governments way of trying to take panhandlers off the street and hide them so Montgomery County can look like it addresses homelessness and the poor in a significant way. Disgraceful...

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    1. Actually, Montgomery County and our partners in the non-profit and faith communities have a range of programs available to help folks in need of food, shelter, or a way to turn their lives around. That’s part of this initiative -- give to make a difference. And most panhandlers, according to those who work in this area, are not homeless. We don’t want to “hide” the problem – we want to address it and get folks the help they need so they can get out of traffic and get their problems solved. Giving cash keeps them in traffic and very often sustains and enables alcohol, mental health and substance abuse problems.

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  2. You say give a hand-up, not a hand-out. Just exactly what do you have in mind. Also you say "a hand-out does not help." Again exactly what do you mean by that? Are you saying it's not helping the panhandler?
    Not being an expert of course, I nevertheless feel that your only objective is to send the panhandlers to Prince George's county so we can pretend everything is fine in our neat little world.

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    1. The folks who are working every day with people on the streets are, in fact, saying, “Don’t give them cash – it doesn’t help.” Our intent is certainly not to send them elsewhere, but to address the problem directly by getting the panhandlers out of traffic and to the resources where they can receive the services they need to help solve their problems.

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  3. It is important to know what percent of the amount contributed by texting "SHARE" goes to overhead and how much goes to charity? How will the panhandler know where to go for help if you make the contribution?

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    1. All contributions made by texting "SHARE" to 80077 will go directly to organizations helping people in need. None of it will go to fees or overhead for the Community Foundation for Montgomery. To learn more about the Community Foundation, go to www.thecommunityfoundationmc.org.

      Regarding how the panhandler will know where to go, here’s a link -- http://montgomerycountymd.gov/panhandling/Resources/Files/streetcard.pdf (that you can copy) -- to a streetcard that can be given to the panhandler. It lists local resources where they can find help/assistance, depending on their needs. Community organizations working in this field are constantly doing outreach to these folks. Also, in November , as part of the national 100,000 Homes campaign to address homelessness, County staff and volunteers will be reaching out to all homeless folks in the County as part of an effort to connect them with real help.

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  4. What about the Fire Department and other charities panhandling?

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    1. Panhandling is protected speech under the First Amendment and is also legal in Montgomery County under current State law, as determined by the Maryland General Assembly. Therefore the International Association of Fire Fighters annual “Fill the Boot” campaign each Labor Day weekend that raises funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association is legal, as is roadside solicitation by individuals.

      Some might argue there are differences. This campaign happens only one weekend a year. The “Fill the Boot” effort is very visible with fire apparatus and the like at intersections, and those involved receive safety training and safety vests. The funds raised go to charity and not to encourage people to continue to panhandle at dozens of intersections daily and/or support alcohol, substance abuse, and mental health problems.

      Others might still point to safety issues involved with roadway solicitation, regardless of the party involved – both the safety of those soliciting and the problem of distracted drivers

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  5. Although I applaud the efforts to assist others, unless Montgomery County makes it illegal for a person to stand in a roadway, median divider, or intersection to solicit money, this campaign does nothing to to keep these panhandlers from continuing to ask for money in the roadways. I believe that Carroll County, Charles County, Harford County, and Washington County already prohibits a person from standing in a roadway, median divider, or intersection to solicit money or donations of any kind from the occupant of a vehicle. Why can't Montgomery County do the same!

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    1. Thank you for your comment. The County has a law against aggressive panhandling, as defined as harassment, intimidation, blocking someone, etc but panhandling itself is protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

      Maryland State law prohibits soliciting rides, employment or business in the roadways but that does not include soliciting donations. In order to do anything different – whether prohibit soliciting for donations in the roadway or establish a permit system, the Maryland General Assembly must explicitly pass legislation to authorize counties to do something different. Some counties have been authorized to ban soliciting. Others, like Prince George’s County, have a permit system.

      The most the Maryland General Assembly has been willing to do is authorize Montgomery County to establish a permit system under which panhandlers would be required to get a permit – although the County would not be able to limit the number of permits or the number of intersections and would be required to let permit holders solicit along roadways, in the medians AND in the road. Given these conditions, the County has declined to exercise this authority – it wouldn’t make an appreciable difference and would explicitly legalize folks being in the roadway.

      That is background to our current effort. People panhandle because other people give them money. That’s what we – and advocates for the needy – are urging folks to stop doing. Again, it isn’t safe. It doesn’t help. And – right now – the law allows nothing different.

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  6. I hope the county will be equally diligent in discouraging panhandling by churches, charity fund drives, and fire departments.

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