[Hpn] Anti-panhandling campaign in Colorado Springs

Thu, 04 May 2000 21:30:04 -0400 (EDT)

The following is from our local daily paper. Does anyone out there have 
experience with these sort of campaigns? Do they work at all?  What about 
"healthy handouts" like food vouchers?  
Matt Parkhouse, RN, Colorado Springs, CO

<<Downtown campaigns to oust panhandlers

By Raquel Rutledge/The Gazette
Edited by Cary Leider Vogrin; headline by Connie Becchio

Six months ago, Terri Waters spent her days sitting on the exit ramp of 
Interstate 25 at Cimarron Street, holding a sign that read: "Stranded. Can 
you help me with my dogs? God bless you."
Arriving at dawn and sitting until dusk, Waters, 37, said she sometimes took 
in as much as $200 a day from passing motorists. But since October, when the 
city barred panhandling on freeway exit ramps, Waters has been asking for 
handouts on downtown streets. And she's not alone.

What used to be a problem for some motorists is now a problem for shoppers 
and restaurant-goers. In fact, the Downtown Partnership, a group of nearly 
200 businesses, is starting a campaign later this week to discourage shoppers 
from giving to beggars.

The partnership has printed about 100 door posters (slogan: "Make a Change, 
Keep Your Change,") and 300 anti-panhandling placards that will sit beside 
cash registers. 

Shop owners say so many panhandlers have moved downtown that they are scaring 
away customers.

"We lose business because of it," Starbucks worker Dave Sansone said. "People 
can't come in here without being harassed."

Sansone kicks at least one panhandler a day out of the coffee shop at Tejon 
and Bijou, but he said it doesn't do much good because "they just go sit 
outside and stop customers there." 

Nobody has exact figures of the number of downtown panhandlers, but police 
say they recognize faces from the freeway ramps.

Panhandling is not prohibited on city property, although if people get too 
aggressive, they can be ticketed for harassment.

Carol Lindsay, a sales clerk at Timbuktu Station, across the street from 
Starbucks, said she, too, believes panhandlers are causing problems.

"I feel like I can't walk anywhere without them stopping me and asking for 
money," Lindsay said. "It makes people think twice about coming down here." 

For Ron Osmond, who was downtown for lunch this week, the panhandlers might 
influence where he dines or shops. But they also present a moral struggle.

"It gives you a small crisis of conscience," Osmond said.

Waters and others say they don't enjoy panhandling downtown. They say 
shoppers and store owners are sometimes rude and uncaring.

The ordinance banning them from on-ramps was an attempt to alleviate traffic 
accidents. Police did not have statistics directly linking panhandling to 
accidents but said they received more than 100 driver complaints about people 
in the streets during 18 months in 1998-99.

Those calls have nearly disappeared since the ordinance was passed. And since 
October, 13 tickets - for $30 each - have been issued to people violating the 
ordinance. That threat has left panhandlers searching for alternatives.

Waters tries almost daily to get temporary work through Labor Ready, a 
downtown employment agency. Sometimes she'll get hired for janitorial work, 
landscaping or moving furniture. Sometimes there's no work. 

But she says the roughly $50 a day she earns now and then isn't enough to 
cover the $125 a month she pays to live in a camper near Conejos Street and 
for other living expenses such as food and cigarettes. That's why she heads 

"It's been really hard on me since I quit signing," Waters said.

One 33-year-old woman and her boyfriend who didn't want to be named said the 
ordinance has left them in a lurch. They're behind on their electric, phone 
and cable bills. 

But pride and downtown panhandling don't mix, they said. 

"We try not to do it," the boyfriend said. "We're so embarrassed. (People) 
don't want to see us down there."

At the same time, the couple hoped for a little compassion. They said "it's 
not fair" for downtown business to try to turn the public against them.

"They ought to see people who are clean and sober and not point a finger and 
say 'Those are bad people,'" the 33-year-old woman said. "I was using it to 

She, like others who panhandle, said she can't get work because she has no 
job skills or experience.

Waters, who recently gave away her two pit bulls because she can't afford to 
take care of them, isn't giving up. She says she'll keep trying to work and - 
when needed - will ask for help from downtowners.

"I'm trying to get into a house," she said.