Three weeks after the Fresno City Council turned down a proposed law meant to deal with panhandling, a new plan will come to the panel this Thursday that has a better approach and should be supported.
That initial proposal was made by north Fresno councilman Steve Brandau, who has since moved into a vacancy he was elected to fill on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. His measure would have made it illegal for anyone to ask for money at a signaled intersection. Drivers who handed out anything to panhandlers at an intersection would have also been guilty of an infraction and would have faced a fine.
Public comment was strongly against the measure, with speakers calling it “embarrassing,” “mean” and “lipstick on a pig.” Police Chief Jerry Dyer opposed it, saying he did not have enough officers to enforce such a law.
Ultimately, it did not pass, as Councilman Luis Chavez, a co-sponsor, withdrew his backing and Councilman Garry Bredefeld voted no once Dyer had given his opinion.
Now Bredefeld, with support from Councilmen Miguel Arias and Paul Caprioglio, is taking a new idea to the council that would discourage contributions to panhandlers in favor of donations to established assistance agencies, such as the Fresno Rescue Mission, that daily work with homeless and addicted people.
Called “Help Us, Help Fresno,” the plan calls for 100 to 150 signs to be placed a key spots frequented by panhandlers. Among the locations will be major intersections like Blackstone and Herndon, Fresno and Highway 99, Nees and Blackstone and Ventura and 99.
Signs could also go up in parks and along key business corridors. Each council member will get to direct where signs should go in his or her district, based on feedback from residents.
Importantly, the signs will not only discourage giving to panhandlers who venture out into traffic to ask for money, but will instead tell motorists how to text a donation to a fund that will be used to support charities. The phone number for the Rescue Mission will also be included for anyone who needs help.
While Brandau did not intend for his measure to be punitive, opponents on the council saw it as penalizing people who were simply trying to help those in need.
The intention with the new plan, Bredefeld says, is to educate the public that the best way to help is by directing donations to groups like the Rescue Mission or Poverello House.
Numerous experts nationally have said that people who live on the streets take donations to feed their drug or alcohol addictions. Matthew Dildine, CEO of the Rescue Mission, put it this way: “Giving a dollar to a drug addict is equivalent to giving him a needle.”
The charities daily provide meals, showers and shelter to homeless and struggling people. And by virtue of their large scale, the agencies can make a donated dollar go farther than a single motorist handing a bill to a panhandler at an intersection.
Dyer estimates that there are on average 300 people panhandling in Fresno every day. It is hard to say no to someone who runs up in traffic or stops shoppers leaving a store. Fresnans are kind-hearted people who just want to help.
But the best way to be generous is to get a needy person connected to a charity that can benefit the whole person. The City Council should support this initiative, and Fresnans should back local charities whose mission is to help the downtrodden.
If you go
The Help Us, Help Fresno proposal will be considered by the Fresno City Council at 2 p.m. Thursday. The meeting is at City Hall, 2600 Fresno St.