About 20 homeless protesters, carrying signs and shouting slogans, marched in front of the United Way office on Fourth South Wednesday morning, angry over the agency's sponsorship of "panhandler cards" and asking for money to fund an employment program.
Protesters vented their frustrations with the United Way's allocation of money, saying the agency doesn't give enough to the homeless. They want a commitment from officials to allow homeless representatives on the organization's allocations committee.They also objected to the use of the cards, which were formulated by the city and the Central Business Improvement District and are funded by United Way. The card, which is being distributed through local businesses, lists several social service agencies that cater to the homeless. Shoppers and others who walk the streets in downtown Salt Lake City have been invited to give the cards to panhandlers when they ask for money.
United Way Executive Director Charles Johnson told the group that he would contact other agencies in the community to discuss organizing some type of employment program for the homeless. But he said the homeless must realize they are not the only ones in need; other needs must also be considered when the agency decides where to spend money.
Ken Hill, director of public relations for US WEST and a volunteer board member for United Way, said agency officials agreed on Tuesday to meet Wednesday with a group of homeless people. He said it was agreed that there would be no pickets.
"I'm surprised they would take this action. It just confronts the issue; it doesn't help resolve it. It's not helpful to polarize the situation."
Hill said the pickets and their leaders "embarrassed the agency that is trying to deal with the needs in the community." He said United Way is willing to talk about needs but doesn't believe such confrontations will help the homeless.
Rebecca Owings, a spokeswomanfor the homeless, said the panhandlers card is "degrading to the homeless" and "doesn't address the real issues." She said the United Way's sponsorship of the card would allow Utahns to feel prejudice "because you're leaders in the business community."
Johnson said the card is not intended to be prejudicial and was intended to help, rather than degrade, those to whom it is given. He said panhandlers are the ones the card was directed at and he realizes "that not all homeless people are pan-handlers."