Recent action taken by the Wichita City Council regarding changes in the ordinances around panhandling has brought significant public discourse on how this will impact the homeless population. We would invite you to consider a few thoughts from two executive directors of agencies providing homeless services.
We support everyone’s freedom of speech and believe the city is working to protect that right while addressing the real safety concerns of some people stepping into streets and otherwise impeding traffic flow in congested areas of the city. We, like many other Wichitans, have witnessed too many near misses at busy intersections.
It is important to understand that most of the panhandlers are not homeless or even the working poor. Studies also show that the majority of those panhandling do not use the funds provided in ways that are good for their long-term health and well-being. The often aggressive behavior of panhandlers contributes to an already negative public image of those in need. Our daily experience with the homeless and/or low-income people is not at all what is seen from those panhandlers. Our experiences are most often ones of courtesy, cooperation, despair, struggle, hope, and determination.
Inter-Faith Ministries, Open Door, The Lord’s Diner, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and many more support agencies work hard to close gaps in services for low-income and homeless individuals in our community. Wichita is fortunate to have agencies who truly work together to ensure that there are services available to those in need. We coordinate all the efforts so there is a better chance of a successful transition from poor to financially stable, homelessness to housed.
We understand and appreciate the concern and desire to help those in need in our community; we do not believe giving money to panhandlers is the best way to help. Experts, including people who were previously homeless, say that giving cash to panhandlers is not effective. Several agencies, including Inter-Faith Ministries, Wichita police Homeless Outreach Team, and United Way, provide cards with contact information for those who are hungry, homeless or in need of other services. Additionally, United Way has the 2-1-1 phone line for anyone needing assistance.
What is effective is volunteering and supporting agencies who help those most in need. Join our Wichita Continuum of Care Team made up of advocates, business people and homeless providers. Choose a reputable charitable organization, give support of time and resources. That way you and they can provide real and meaningful assistance to rebuild lives.
Deann Smith is executive director of United Methodist Open Door. Garland Egerton is executive director of Inter-Faith Ministries.