Dayton officials Tuesday launched a new collaborative effort aimed at reducing the number of panhandlers in the city. The new Real Change Dayton (RCD) program encourages people to help the homeless by giving at designated locations instead of giving directly to panhandlers.
The program includes a plan to transform a dozen currently idle parking meters in high-traffic pedestrian areas of Dayton into collection sites. The parking meters were donated by the city to the Downtown Dayton Partnership. They will be painted for free by the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority.
Downtown Dayton Partnership President Sandy Gudorf says the new program was created to address an increasing number of community complaints about panhandling.
“You know when our businesses, our residents, our guests feel concerned, we felt that we needed to have a community conversation,” Gudorf says.
Gudorf says the RCD team looked at other cities and their "best practices" in dealing with panhandlers.
She told those gathered that, "Nobody has exactly figured this out yet but it's important that the first step is education and awareness and that's what we're trying to do."
Other RCD team members say the reasons people are panhandling vary and "need" may not always be the case. They acknowledge that there are people seeking money for drugs and/or alcohol.
City Manager Shelly Dickstein says much of the problem lies with the people who are funding the panhandlers through direct donations.
"By giving money, you're not really helping that person. You're allowing them to continue to live in the circumstances that they're currently living and you're not helping them grow and be in a more sustainable, healthy situation," she said.
RCD members also said there is evidence that some panhandlers appear to be organized among themselves or are being directed by another person or group.
Along with the new parking meters, people will be able to donate money through a soon-to-be-launched website and by texting. City officials say the program will also expand outreach to connect homeless panhandlers with services.
Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley says there are many service organizations and programs, like Medicaid and food assistance, already providing support to people who have a genuine need.
"If we can get to those people to get them connected to the system, we think that's a good thing," he said.
The funds generated through the Real Change Dayton program will be distributed to a number of service organizations that "focus on financial stability, positive health outcomes and emergency services."
The organizations include the City of Dayton and the Dayton Police Department; Montgomery County; United Way of the Greater Dayton Area; Goodwill/Easter Seals of the Miami Valley; Homefull, Miami Valley Housing Opportunities; Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug, Addiction and Mental Health Services; PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) Program Street Outreach; St. Vincent DePaul; the Foodbank; City of Dayton Department of Law; and the Downtown Dayton Partnership.