It’s difficult to see people suffering. People have a variety of reactions when they see others trying to survive on the streets: pity, anger, curiosity, fear. Some choose to pretend panhandlers and people who are homeless are not even there at all.
We think it’s important to have empathy for this population. They are people just like us. How would you feel if you lost your job, home, family? Or what if you were hungry, sick, freezing cold?
Our best advice is to begin with remembering that these are people who deserve care, concern and respect. While we discourage giving them money, small acts of kindness, such as giving them food or water, can make a positive impact.
Here are some tips and other information to help you understand more about panhandling in our community:
It’s illegal to panhandle.
St. Louis City Ordinance 67918 states that it is illegal to panhandle in the following places:
(1) In any public transportation vehicle;
(2) Within 50 feet of an automatic teller machine or entrance to a bank;
(3) Within 30 feet of a point of entry to or exit from any building open to the public, including commercial establishments;
(4) At any sidewalk café;
(5) Within 50 feet of any public or private school;
(6) At any bus stop, train stop, or cab stand;
(7) Within 20 feet of any crosswalk;
(8) Within any municipal or government owned building, park, golf course, or playground.
Report aggressive panhandlers to the police by calling 314-231-1212 (non-emergency number).
Please don’t give money to panhandlers.
We caution all who feel compelled to give money to panhandlers. Even a small donation can put a life at risk.
Many people who find themselves chronically homeless suffer from behavioral health issues. Due to our many years of experience and first-hand accounts, we know that people who panhandle may use your money to support bad habits, including substance abuse.
For example, downtown St. Louis in Fall 2016 experienced a rash of K2 overdoses among the homeless population.K2 can be bought on the streets for as little as two dollars. Though not usually fatal, K2 is very dangerous to anyone who takes it.
You can help, by giving differently.
Instead of dropping your spare change into a cup, donate to St. Patrick Center, where food, shelter, clothing, counseling and Housing First programs are available.
Continue your compassionate support of this population and know that your resources are better used when given to service providers that are trained and ready to help people in crisis.
When we engage this population into programs and case management, we also help reduce the strain placed upon our first responders and hospital systems.
It’s up to each of us to decide who to help and how.
If you are approached by a panhandler, acknowledge him/her with a nod. Answer his/her request for money by simply saying, “no.”
Don’t allow a panhandler to engage you in conversation. After saying no, walk away.
Walk with confidence and don’t be intimidated. If you feel threatened or harassed in any way, call the police.
Remember that someone asking you for money or food does not necessarily mean he or she is homeless.
Panhandling will stop when people stop rewarding such behavior.
St. Patrick Center is a partner in Downtown St. Louis, Inc.’s “Real Change” movement, which strives to end panhandling by raising awareness of the issues and providing donations to agencies that help people improve their lives.