The Longmont Housing Opportunities Team (LHOT) is a collaboration of more than 50 members of nonprofits, government and communities of faith, formed in 2002, to reduce homelessness by bringing together community partners and mobilizing resources. LHOT is engaged in Close to Home, a campaign to increase understanding and move Coloradoans to speak up and take action to help make homelessness history. One of the most common questions that LHOT is asked by community members is whether they should give money to people who are panhandling.
People carrying signs and asking for money are a common sight in the Longmont area these days. Most community members, when seeing a panhandler, feel empathy and would like to help. However, they also wonder if providing money is the best way to really help someone in need, or will that money be spent for a purpose you had not intended; for example, am I enabling an addiction when my intention is to help pay for food?
To be sure, there are people who need help. Some refuse help because of behavioral problems or addiction. Our community strives to get them connected to the safety net and tighten the net so that homelessness is reduced. Local agencies like HOPE, Boulder Shelter, the OUR Center, the Inn Between and Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley work hard every day to help people who are homeless. It is important to note that resources given to panhandling do not contribute to the long-term solutions to homelessness, are not a solution even in the short-term and may even contribute or worsen the problems experienced by the people who are panhandling. When money is given to panhandling, the behavior is reinforced and further encourages the panhandling. And, not all panhandlers are homeless.
Businesses have also expressed concern that panhandlers in front of their establishments drive away customers who feel intimidated. Although the City of Longmont has enacted an ordinance that prohibits panhandling on public property, recent case law has prompted the City to re-evaluate its existing ordinances to determine whether current Code complies with recent court decisions regarding First Amendment speech and expression. The City has formally suspended enforcement of its ordinance during this review. The City of Longmont recognizes the importance of First Amendment speech and expression, and will not issue any citations until they are sure the laws they enact regarding this issue comply with the First Amendment.
However, there are alternatives for panhandling. LHOT recommends using the “Community Cares” packets that provide folks in need with a list of resources, a food gift card, and a shower voucher. These can be obtained at Habitat for Humanity Restore, the OUR Center and several area churches. The cost is $ 20 per packet. Please phone Stella Woodley at 303-772-5529 for more information.
Another alternative is giving directly to organizations that are working to impact homelessness in our community. The cumulative effect of the donations given could significantly impact our community’s ability to change the incidence of homelessness. Carry protein bars and bottled water to hand out. Think about volunteering in one of the LHOT agencies.
The list can be found at lhotonline.org. Working directly with people in need can be gratifying and truly change lives.
So, the next time you are approached by someone who is asking for money, be kind and resolve to work to end homelessness by joining the Close to Home Campaign at www.closetohome.org.
The Longmont Housing Opportunities Team Steering Committee
Edwina Salazar 303-772-5529
David Bitler 303-684-0810
Jackie List 303-772-4422
Karen Roney 303-651-8633
David Moore 303-651-8555