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Panhandler handouts ‘not helping’

Donations feed addiction, homeless advocates say; better the public donate to organizations
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local organizations say giving money to panhandlers enables them to continue a life possibly driven by addiction. “We are a compassionate nation and people (give panhandlers money) out of compassion really,” said Michelle Fish, social service director of the Auburn Salvation Army. “(Residents) want (homeless people) to go feed themselves. What we see and Gathering Inn sees … it’s enabling them to stay homeless, it’s not really helping.” The Gathering Inn is an organization of churches that provides overnight shelter, food and resources to the homeless of Placer County. Suzi de Fosset, executive director of The Gathering Inn, said the organization is hoping to start an educational program for citizens and business owners about reducing panhandling in Auburn. “I’m contacting some of the business owners and the leasing agents, and we are going to talk about what is an acceptable plan,” de Fosset said. “I really believe it’s a matter of education.” De Fosset said she agrees with Fish that money people raise through panhandling often goes toward feeding an addiction. “Most of all the panhandling happens near stores where they can buy the alcohol, and we have had way too many homeless people die when they are intoxicated,” she said. “The community teaches them that they will support them. Why would they go in for services if they get everything they need outside the services?” When citizens want to make life better for the homeless, they should donate to organizations rather than give money to those who panhandle, de Fosset said. “My goal is that when people think about handing money out, that it’s done in a responsible way not just to alleviate (the donator’s) conscience, but to make a change in the system,” she said. Donations to panhandlers cost the city more money, because police and hospital services are often needed if addictions are involved, de Fosset said. Fish said she has heard the younger generation of homeless talk about making $25 to $30 a day panhandling. De Fosset said The Gathering Inn has seen one new homeless person every day this year. “The numbers are getting scary,” she said. “During summertime we see a huge number of foster youth who are coming out of the foster system … and they are let go with no skills.” Fish said Auburn attracts panhandlers. “They come from other areas … because there are no ordinances in place,” Fish said. Auburn resident Elizabeth Aloisa, who is currently homeless, said she and her boyfriend tried panhandling for a day, but it felt too degrading. “I won’t do it (anymore) because I know people in this town, and I would feel horribly embarrassed,” Aloisa said. Aloisa said the majority of people she has known who panhandle use the money to buy alcohol or drugs, and now that she is homeless she has a better understanding of how hard it is to get back on your feet after becoming homeless. “I have known a lot of young people who are in that situation, and they are in that situation because they have addictions or mental issues and they need help,” she said. “I can see now why they think it’s easier to spend the money they have and stay in that situation.” Aloisa said she doesn’t think Placer County offers enough shelter services for the homeless, and she thinks the local homeless would feel comfortable with more Auburn-based shelters. Councilman Mike Holmes said he suggested The Gathering Inn work with business owners to reduce panhandling in shopping centers. “A lot of people get irritated at (panhandlers),” Holmes said. Holmes said he is planning to bring the issue before the City Council in a future meeting, and that an ordinance discouraging panhandling might even be a possibility for Auburn. “I would imagine that new ordinance proposals would be part of the overall approach we are going to take, but we haven’t developed a full response package to consider with our partners in the business and nonprofit community,” said City Manager Bob Richardson. “Once we have developed an agreement there, we will move forward to the City Council.” Aloisa said she thinks an ordinance is a good idea, especially since it’s not always easy to tell if panhandlers actually need the help or are just hoping to make a little extra money. Auburn resident Ashley Dunn said she gives to panhandlers about once every six months. “We are all struggling,” Dunn said. “If I have some money on me then sure, but it’s not like I do it every single day. If I was in that situation I hope someone would hand me a couple bucks to go get some food. If the shoe was on the other foot is a good way to put it.” Auburn resident Elizabeth Cisneros said she gives through her church, and said she thinks that giving to panhandlers only enables drug and alcohol abuse. “It is kind of disturbing to see them, and I wish we could do more for them …,” Cisneros said. Cisneros also said people stopping or slowing their cars to donate to panhandlers could cause accidents. Auburn resident Rodney Powers said he donates through charities and thinks citizens give money to panhandlers because they feel guilty. “I just pass them by,” Powers said. “It’s common so after awhile you just get immune to it.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com