Salt Lake businesses launched their third annual campaign to discourage panhandling on city streets during a Thursday news conference.
The appropriate - and most effective - way to help people who are homeless is to put a donation in one of more than 200 donation receptacles placed in area businesses, said Roger Dean, First Security Bank vice president and chairman of the Downtown Alliance Security Committee. That money is collected and given to Travelers Aid Society, operator of Utah's largest homeless shelter network.The campaign's slogan is "Say YES to the Homeless . . . Say NO to Panhandling." The message is conveyed throughout the downtown area by posters, check stuffers, tent cards and labels attached to donation boxes.
In fact, the Downtown Alliance collected $8,048.01 last year. During the press event, supporters presented the king-sized check to Maun Alston, Travelers Aid Society director.
"We see a lot of panhandlers who are professionals," said Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.
Encouraging them to panhandle on city streets by donating to them "hurts the feel of the community . . . and is not helping the truly needy and homeless."
The mayor spoke of a particularly bold panhandler who has "hit almost every citizen of Salt Lake up" with his tale of a lost bus ticket.
"Let's all give to the homeless, but let's say no to panhandlers," Corradini said.
While members of the Downtown Alliance and the mayor agreed that panhandling has decreased since the campaign started, not everyone gathered outside the mall for the press conference liked the message.
The campaign is "mean," said Bonnie Jepson, 16. "There are people who have homes, but not money for food. Most I've met ask for spare change because they're not getting other help.
She said it's particularly hard for homeless youths, who don't stay in the family shelter and don't benefit from the campaign.
Her friends, Clayton Streeval and Charlie Swasey, both 18, had mixed emotions.
"I've seen con artists - the guy with the broken leg who gets up after he's collected enough," said Swasey. "And people who really need help."
"I do think it keeps the money away from alcoholics," added Stree-val. "But some of the kids really do need it. Maybe someone could set up something for them - a snack bar for homeless kids."
Alston said the money collected in the anti-panhandling campaign will be used to help people in the homeless shelter become self-reliant, focusing on case management and supportive services.