City: Stop paying panhandlers, 'text-to-give' instead

City officials are asking people to stop giving loose change and spare bills to panhandlers, saying much of the money is likely fueling the city’s opioid epidemic. Instead, officials on Monday announced a “text-to-give” campaign, the proceeds of which will go to established homeless service programs.

“I will admit myself that I have given people money in the past, if someone looks that down and out,” Mayor Kenney said at a City Hall news conference. “But you have to understand it’s not going to help solve their ultimate problem. It will address an immediate problem of either hunger or drug addiction, but it’s not going to solve the problem at large.”

Brian Abernathy, first deputy managing director, at a news conference announcing a “text-to-give” campaign. The money raised will go to homeless services.

People can donate $5 by texting the word “share” to 80077. The money will go to the Mayor’s Fund to End Homelessness and will be matched by the city’s Office of Homeless Services, according to Liz Hersh, the office’s director.

“The funds that we get, we will put directly into real solutions,” Hersh said. “Housing, jobs, and services to help end homelessness.”

The city does not track the number of panhandlers on the streets, but Hersh said she and others have noticed an uptick. She said that coincides with a rise in people living on the streets.

January’s point-in-time homelessness count found about 950 people living on the streets, up from 705 at the same time in 2016. Hersh said the biggest increase was in Kensington, the epicenter of the city’s heroin crisis.

Asked if the city could address the problem of panhandling with more law enforcement involvement, city officials said the underlying issues fueling panhandling cannot be solved by making arrests.

“I’m not going to be a mayor who is going to lock up people for being poor,” Kenney said. “I’m just not doing it.”