The city of Dallas has a new plan to fight panhandling. Same as 2017. Same as 2016 and 2015, too. The difference this time is End Panhandling Now, as the new program is (directly but not creatively) named, has the support of the City Council, as well as some ideas that are certainly different from what city staff members have drummed up in the past.
When we last left the city's attempts at curbing panhandling in downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum and along the city's freeways and major streets, it had proposed a softhearted approach called Give Right Dallas. The plan, which a council committee rejected in November, would've placed "giving" parking meters in areas with high levels of panhandling, allowing those being panhandled to assuage their guilt by tangentially giving money to homeless support groups, rather than homeless people.
Council members said at the time that they wanted a stronger, more targeted program. On Monday, city staffers showed a couple of new television spots, including a Frogger-inspired public service announcement they intend to roll out as part of new pilot program later this year. The ads aren't ambiguous about what they want from Dallas residents.
"This is so much better than what you brought to us last time," Sandy Greyson, an outspoken critic of the proposed Give Right Dallas campaign, said. "It's direct. End Panhandling Now. That's what we wanted — we wanted something with a clear, direct message, and that's what this is."
In addition to the public service announcements, which will be supported by a $65,000 ad buy for both TV and social media, the city also plans to roll out a team of four street outreach workers to better assess the needs of those who panhandle in Dallas.
"We know that not all panhandlers are the same, but it's not a population that we know very well," said Jessica Galleshaw, Dallas' newly hired managing director in the city's Office of Community Care. "Our street outreach workers would identify [panhandlers'] needs and provide direct services, in some cases, in addition to providing referrals and connections to community-based services."
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Outreach workers will give panhandlers Dallas Area Rapid Transit passes if they need help getting somewhere in the city or could arrange for long-distance bus tickets for those who are stuck in Dallas and want to get home to their families or friends. During End Panhandling Now's pilot, four workers will work in two teams around the city.
Dallas Police Department officers, as they have been since receiving new instructions over the holidays, will continue to focus their panhandling enforcement efforts on people who are asking for cash from motorists on Dallas' roadways. The city still believes, staff said Monday, that Dallas' other anti-panhandling laws, including an outright ban on panhandling in the Central Business District and Deep Ellum, won't pass judicial muster in the event of a court challenge. Nevertheless, the Public Safety Committee agreed Monday that End Panhandling Now was worth supporting, rather than sending back for another rewrite, as the committee did with Give Right Dallas.
"I accept that nobody really knows how to do this, but I don't think that's an excuse for not trying," council member Philip Kingston said. "So my residents, who are facing, by far, the greatest burden from this problem, have been wanting a credible plan from the city of Dallas. This, to me, looks like at least the start of one."