Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Keep Your Change: Illinois Town Frowns on Handouts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Keep Your Change: Illinois Town Frowns on Handouts

Article excerpt

THIS liberal, affluent Midwestern college town has come up with a discreet but apparently successful way to curb an annoying urban problem: panhandling.

Beginning last week, two paid "interveners" began patrolling Evanston's downtown commercial district and courteously discouraging people from giving cash to panhandlers.

The "interveners" are part of a program that combines posters, brochures, school and campus lectures, increased police presence, and a media campaign, launched in June, that, according to police, has contributed to an estimated 50 percent drop in panhandlers in downtown Evanston in recent weeks.

Local business groups, concerned that panhandlers drive away potential customers, provide most of the program's funding. Organizers say they are likely to expand the program this fall after a trial period.

The program politely targets givers rather than aggressively confronting those asking for handouts. It aims to redirect charity away from sidewalk beggars while encouraging people to donate directly to local agencies that provide meals, shelter, and counseling to the needy.

A police survey in April indicated that the majority of panhandlers in downtown Evanston are not homeless, have criminal records, and seek quick cash to support drug or alcohol habits.

"Excuse me, but we're discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers," intervener Melvin Smith told a woman getting into her car after handing cash to a beggar on a downtown street. "Thank you," she replied, and drove off.

Sporting navy blue jackets with identification badges, Mr. Smith and his fellow "intervener," ex-Marine Donald "Sarge" Crosby, patrol the downtown area in shifts every afternoon except Sunday.

The two elderly men are paid $7 an hour by a city merchants' association.

Smith and Mr. Crosby, who underwent a week of police training for the job, avoid direct contact with beggars. But they each carry a cellular phone to report any aggressive panhandling or suspicious activities to the police. …

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