Perceptions (or misperceptions) about panhandlers abound: they are homeless; they are addicts; they are criminals. One thing is certain about panhandling – it is the sign of a life in crisis.
So, what should you do when you’re waiting at a stop light or walking down the street and get approached by someone who asks for money? Whether to give panhandlers your spare change or other items is a personal decision, although there are potential pitfalls to doing so.
Handouts to panhandlers from a vehicle can create traffic concerns and safety hazards for motorists because drivers aren’t focusing their full attention on the intersection. Sharing essentials such as bottled water or food can have the unintended consequence of littering. And gifting directly to panhandlers only addresses the individual’s immediate need, rather than their long-term stability.
Experts say the best way of helping those in crisis is through contributions to an established organization that offers programs or services which break down barriers to housing and employment. A few options in North Texas include:
Cornerstone Assistance Network: Available services include ESL and GED Prep courses that help individuals become more marketable in the job field, as well as a variety of homeownership programs. www.canetwork.org
Tarrant County Homeless Coalition: The organization’s Direct Client Service Fund helps citizens pay deposits for apartments, and purchases work boots or uniforms to foster employment. www.ahomewithhope.org
Fort Worth HOPE Center: The School of Hope program for low income adults provides vocational training tied to certification, allowing men and women to gain the skills and credentials necessary for employment. www.fwhope.org
Tarrant Literacy Coalition: A variety of courses, such as Basic Skills Instruction (reading, writing and math), workplace/industry-specific instruction, computer literacy, and GED/ESL Prep, enhance job readiness. www.tarrantliteracycoalition.org
Arlington Life Shelter: Adult clients complete life skills classes, while children and teens receive tutoring and computer instruction. Education and support groups assist those challenged by addiction, and residents receive individualized coaching to secure and maintain employment. www.arlingtonlifeshelter.org
Fort Worth Library: Classes that are free to the public help prepare individuals for the workforce, including Basic Keyboarding, Computer Basics, GED Prep, and Microsoft Office training. www.fwlibraryfoundation.org
For those who want to provide panhandlers with immediate assistance, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition offers the Pocket Pal. This handy guide to services for individuals in crisis can be downloaded at www.ahomewithhope.org, saved on your desktop and printed for easy distribution. Carry an extra copy in your purse, wallet or car for distribution when you encounter someone in need.
To learn more about poverty and related issues in Tarrant County, visit www.northtexascf.org/ourcommunity/reports/.