It’s hard to walk the streets of Philadelphia these days without suffering from a crisis of the heart as you walk by those who are less fortunate asking for spare change and suffer the question of whether to give a dollar or two, or keep walking.
And the opioid crisis ravaging our city means even more outstretched palms.
To provide an alternative means to help, and to curb the number of people panhandling, Mayor Kenney and the Office of Homeless Services recently unveiled a “text-to-give” campaign. Its slogan: “Show you care, but just not there.” It allows the user to send a donation via phone that ultimately goes to Homeless Services.
After texting “share” to 80077, $5 is added to your next phone bill and the money is sent to a private tech company, mGive, which takes a 3.5 percent fee and sends the money to the Mayor’s Fund to End Homelessness, which is separate from the overall Mayor’s Fund. The End Homelessness fund transfers that money to the Office of Homeless Services, subtracting another 5 percent in administrative costs.
This complicated series of financial steps has many — this page included — wondering whether the text campaign is too bureaucratic for its own good, especially when it would be so easy to avoid the middleman and put money directly into the hands that need it.
By the time a $5 donation reaches the Office of Homeless Services, the fees make it worth only around $4.56.
The Homeless Services office says the money is first funneled through the End Homelessness fund to give donors peace of mind. The separate Mayor’s Fund has a 501(c)(3) status, which lists the End Homelessness fund as a nonprofit charitable organization. However, given recent questions about expenditures by the Mayor’s Fund, it’s not clear how much peace of mind this accomplishes.
Once Homeless Services collects $25,000 in donations, it will match it and eventually award those funds to local nonprofits through an open, competitive process in which organizations propose initiatives to curb panhandling.
Although curbing the amount of cash panhandlers collect and might spend to buy dope is not a bad idea, the long and winding road that “text-to-give” money must travel before it reaches people who need help is a problem.
Homeless Services says in its first three days the program brought in more than 100 donations, a not-unimpressive number. But since so little money has been allocated for marketing, it could take months to reach the $25,000 benchmark, more months for non-profits to create proposals, and even more months for Homeless Services to select and implement initiatives.
The city should be commended for thinking creatively about solving such a perennial social problem, and it’s especially commendable that the money raised will primarily help those in immediate need. But given the daunting opioid and homelessness problems the city is facing; a speedier solution is needed.