Column – Helping homeless with cash handouts not the answer

Dan Nelson, Dan Nelson, and Dan Nelson

Tired of being hassled for money every time you walk down State Street?

It seems the streets of Santa Barbara are gradually riddled with more panhandlers every month. They loiter around the Habit Burger, they park themselves on benches along the streets, and they flash signs coaxing you to spare some coin for their struggles.

I cannot imagine that a sympathetic gesture is helping the city in any way. Yet, we feel wrong for passing them by without batting an eye. Instead, we submit. In turn, we are encouraging them to accost people on the streets.

Panhandling is a $600,000 a year practice according to local government and nonprofit officials and is detrimental to the city of Santa Barbara.

Mike Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center, said “when a town gives $600,000 to people who ask for it, you’re going to have people ask for it.”

He also believes that 80 percent of panhandlers on the streets are using a portion of their gratuities for drugs and alcohol.

Although it is futile, the city has bandied ordinances discouraging people from handing out money to the homeless scattered throughout Santa Barbara because the act of panhandling drives business away from stores.

Think of it this way: you can’t make a law against asking people for money, just like you can’t make a law to inform people that they could be assisting suicide vicariously through others with the purchase and consumption of drugs and alcohol.

The tourist dollar is high in Santa Barbara. The city’s economic growth should be the main concern. Not because of all the money we are giving panhandlers, but because of the business that gets driven away by individuals begging for money outside stores.

So what can be done about this particular predicament?

We need a direct action plan from the city to gather up and get the panhandlers help. It will not cost copious amounts of money. A panhandler is pretty easy to spot on the street – they’ll be the ones with the colorful signs asking for money.

Once we have assembled the majority we then place them in the suitable care Santa Barbara has to offer: places like substance abuse clinics, homeless shelters, foster care. Or sending them to a town where they have family who can look after them.

Responsibility also falls on Santa Barbara residents. Stop giving them illusions of alleviation and support a plan to give them real help.