Members of the Dallas City Council greeted Give Right-Dallas, Dallas city staff's latest proposal to combat aggressive panhandling, with less-than-stellar reviews Monday. The plan, which would cost about $200,000, calls for a public education campaign that would encourage Dallas residents and visitors to give cash to homeless support organizations through a website, via text message or by specially marked parking meters, rather than directly to homeless people.
The plan, set to begin in December, is to start with a series of press events and a public service announcement. Targeted ads will be placed on the streets in areas with high concentrations of panhandling reports, as well as on the internet. After the making the public aware of Give Right, Cheritta Johnson, the city's interim director of community affairs, said the city will open giverightdallas.com and begin taking donations from those who text "Give Right" to 4663.
In phase two of the program, parking meters in areas where panhandlers congregate will be set up to take donations to support the city of Dallas' homeless efforts and nonprofit groups like CitySquare, the Austin Street Shelter and the Legacy Counseling Center, which provides mental health services for Dallas' homeless community.
Briefing materials for the new program highlighted three areas Paul Stokes, assistant chief of the Dallas Police Department, identified as having the highest number of panhandling-related 911 calls — Deep Ellum, the intersection of Forest Lane and Abrams Road near LBJ Freeway, and Preston Center. The inclusion of those neighborhoods and hot spots at the expense of others in southern and downtown Dallas raised the hackles of several members of the council's Public Safety Committee.
"Any fool can see where the problem is," said council member Philip Kingston, who represents the bulk of downtown's Central Business District. "I have received many communications this morning wondering if we know our you-know-what from a hole in the ground. If we can please focus on downtown, we're going to have a little better result out of this program."
Stokes responded that Give Right's initiatives will be expanded to areas selected by DPD's seven patrol divisions, but that answer didn't satisfy Kingston.
"If the point is to solve the problem, then let's address the problem where it is," he said. "Great respect to my colleagues. They all have this issue in their districts. It's not that it's a solely [downtown] issue, but we have demonstrably more of it than anybody else."
Dwaine Caraway called out the exclusion of southern Dallas from the initial proposal as well, saying that drivers accosted by panhandlers in his district are less likely to call 911 than shoppers confronted at Preston Center.
"The reason that you get more calls is because of the area and the way that people react to crime or code concerns greater than other areas," he said.
Sandy Greyson, who represents Far North Dallas, said the program wasn't "strong enough."
"This is not what I envisioned," she said before criticizing the program's proposed artwork as pushing people to give to the homeless, rather than the city programs. "When I look at that picture, I'm saying, 'Poor him, oh poor him,' and it kinda tugs at my heartstrings. I kinda say, 'Oh, I want to give this kid money.' ... What I wanted to see was something like one hand giving a dollar bill to another hand with a big red X through it."
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Adam Medrano said he worried that panhandlers would simply gather around the donation meters while Jennifer Gates said the initial program wasn't enough. The plan, she said, would "spread a lot of peanut butter real thin throughout the city."
Despite members' issues with the program, the committee didn't vote it down. Instead, it sent the plan back to staff with a request for another presentation on the program later this year.