Change the behavior of givers: Prince William Co. proposal suggests not handing money to panhandlers

Homelessness and panhandling often go together. On Tuesday, Prince William County supervisors will be briefed on a new proposal to address the issue of panhandling.

Among the suggestions: rather than hand money to panhandlers, well-intentioned residents would contact a panhandling team to provide coordinated services to panhandlers.

In an agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, Deputy County Executive Elijah Johnson will lay out the vision of the Panhandling Process Action Team, made up of representatives from the county’s social and community services, police and transportation departments.

According to the proposal, an initial step would be increasing engagement with panhandlers to establish relationships, offer services, and collect data that will identify specific needs of the panhandler and inform staff of safety concerns.

The outreach group would gather data in 16 intersections and business areas that have been identified, with the goal of providing an coordinated interagency response.

Another part of the proposal deals with engaging with the public, and suggesting that there are better ways to help panhandlers than by handing them money.

The goal, according to the proposal:

Change the behavior of givers, so that instead of giving directly to the panhandler that they give to the local Homeless Services community partners and that they inform the county on location(s) of panhandlers, so panhandlers can get the services they need to address the root cause of the panhandling.

The proposal offers examples of social media, posters, and other methods of public communication, providing the rationale for changing the way well-intentioned residents give to panhandlers.

The county would provide easy-to-use online options for residents to provide location information to the panhandling team.

County to weigh pilot employment program

Another aspect of the proposal is a pilot employment program, that would provide homeless participants with up to 6 hours of work per week, at $13 an hour, “in an initiative focused on improving environmental cleanliness through litter remove efforts across the county while providing compensation for participating clients.”

The program would be coordinated between the nonprofit Keep Prince William Beautiful, and county’s public works solid waste division, social services homeless services division, and the department of parks and recreation.

Participants would be provided training, equipment, transportation, safety vest, safety goggles, gloves, litter bags, and water. The proposal estimates 45 participants would be employed in the first year of the pilot program, which could begin in July or August, if authorized.

The proposal foresees a reduction in panhandling, increased resources for community partners, as well as “improved public perception” of the county and its safety.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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