Arlington launches campaign to curb panhandling at major intersections. More plans are in the works.

Arlington launches campaign to curb panhandling at major intersections.  More plans are in the works.
Arlington launches campaign to curb panhandling at major intersections.  More plans are in the works.

Blue, black and white signs tell motorists to “contribute to the solution” by donating to volunteer partners in the city who provide emergency shelter, rental housing or resources to prevent eviction.

Below the link, the sign says “It’s OK to say no to panhandlers”.

The signs are located at Interstate 20 and Bowen Road; Division and Collins streets; and Interstate 30 and Collins Street. This is among the first visible steps of several planned over the next couple of years.

City staff also plan to redesign roads at two intersections — Randol Mill Road and Green Oaks Boulevard as well as Matlock and Sublett roads — that will make it difficult for pedestrians to enter the road to accept donations.

The staff is also designing a public education campaign around the claim that not all panhandlers are homeless.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Jennifer Wichmann, deputy city manager, but city staff will monitor the programs and bring initial results back to the council in six months.

Wichmann said the city is meeting with leaders from the organization listed on the landing page to discuss how to help the people they serve. She said she believes homelessness as a problem is being conflated with panhandling, and that panhandlers are taking advantage of this belief.

“We work to make sure they have resources that are available, but then they also understand that living in a camp or panhandling or whatever the solution is, is not an OK solution,” Wichmann said.

Hannah Lebovits, an assistant professor of public affairs and planning at UT Arlington, said she is skeptical of law enforcement claims of panhandling. The information police collect from people on the street is normally anecdotal, and people who provide information are not necessarily telling the truth out of distrust of law enforcement.

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“As many times as I’ve heard that narrative, I’ve heard directly from people who panhandle saying, ‘Yeah, I live in a tent. Yeah, I don’t have stable housing,” she said.

Panhandling separated efficiency

Cities nationwide have adopted mitigation signage campaigns, although they generally have not been successful on their own, Lebovits said.

“Actually, getting people to move from standing on a street corner and individuals actually asking for help to some kind of more structural change in their lives involves trust,” Lebovits said.

That trust has generally been eroded by the historical treatment of homeless people and panhandlers by police and government agencies, she said.

“Unfortunately, for many, many years before this, that trust has not been built and was actually destroyed by these panhandling bans. So if I went out to panhandle and immediately a police officer would come out and try to arrest me, I’m not going to to trust the city when someone comes out and says, “I want to help you.”

Lebovits is one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Dallas and Police Chief Eddie Garcia over an ordinance that fines people standing on a median or in the middle of the road up to $500.

In Arlington, an ordinance prohibits panhandlers from taking to the streets or sending children onto the street to accept donations. As part of the pilot, Arlington police have installed traffic cameras at nine intersections known to be frequent panhandling locations.

City staff and Arlington police have said during afternoon work sessions that the number of panhandlers has fluctuated because people in Arlington are inclined to give.

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US Supreme Court decisions have confirmed that panhandling is a form of expression protected under the First Amendment, meaning that cities cannot outright ban the activity, but can impose rules for public safety.

District 2 City Councilman Raul Gonzalez said he suggested the signs after seeing some while traveling out of town. While he said the signs aren’t a solution, it’s a chance to solve a problem he receives calls about every day.

“People want you to do something. The citizens are like, ‘What’s the city going to do?’ … People don’t care about other people. They just want you to put everybody on a bus and get them out of here, and you can don’t do it,” he said.

Do you have a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at [email protected] You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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