*Originally published in City Journals
In the wake of Operation Rio Grande, there are ongoing conversations about how best to help our homeless friends. Most of us have been asked more than once by someone on the street if we can spare some change. The people of Utah and Salt Lake County are good, charitable people who want to help. Here are some important things to keep in mind as we strive to help our fellow county residents who are homeless.
Panhandling doesn’t actually help the situation. Contrary to what you may think, most homeless people do not panhandle, and most panhandling is not done by homeless people. Panhandling is most often a business enterprise—one that does not actually help homeless people get back on their feet.
Instead of giving to panhandlers, donate to a service provider or drop your spare change in the red meters around downtown Salt Lake City. That will ensure the money goes to one of the many homeless service providers that can leverage your donation with other resources to help people access not just food, but also help to start to work their way out of homelessness.
The Pamela Atkinson Foundation receives donations from the red meters, and from other sources, and coordinates with local service providers like Catholic Community Services, Fourth Street Clinic, The Road Home, and many more to help fund services. There is a network of experts and service providers standing ready to help.
Panhandling also presents a safety concern when conducted on roadways. That’s why state representative Steve Eliason ran a bill to prohibit that, and it is now illegal. Pedestrians walking onto the road near crowded intersections or on busy downtown streets just opens up too much risk that someone could get hurt.
Lastly, cities want to create a safe, vibrant, and growing community and economy for all of their residents. A key part of that is economic development. When businesses are looking at our cities for potential locations for expansion, it isn’t uncommon for them to drive the streets to understand the community. If panhandling continues, and even flourishes, that is noticeable to potential businesses looking at our cities. A panhandling industry that does not benefit homeless people is not the image a city wants to convey.
Let’s work together to end panhandling. We can actually help homeless people by giving in other ways, we can reduce safety risks of pedestrians in close proximity to busy roadways, and we can empower cities to present the best image of their community for future investors.
I’m encouraged by the current efforts to reform our model of homeless service delivery, and believe that those changes—combined with the thoughtful donations of many county residents, will truly help make a difference.
For more information as well as ways to help, visit the Homeless Outreach Service Team at www.slchost.org.
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Aimee Winder Newton
Aimee Winder Newton has served since 2014 and represents Taylorsville, Murray, West Jordan, and West Valley City on the Salt Lake County Council. She was a former 2020 Republican candidate for Utah Governor and was the first woman elected as chair of the Council. Aimee works tirelessly to defend the quality of life in Salt Lake County while protecting tax dollars... [read more]
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aimee winder newton: County Council district 3