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#OKC Boxscore for Monday, Aug. 25, 2014

The week in review, and the week ahead, in Oklahoma City civic affairs
by William Crum Published: August 25, 2014
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Cash handout may not be smartest way to help out panhandlers

While you may think you’ve come face-to-face with homelessness when a panhandler approaches your car at a stoplight, it’s likely not the case.

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, was among those attending a meeting last week called by Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer to discuss panhandling and public safety.

In an interview with The Oklahoman, Straughan said most panhandlers are not really homeless, but are panhandling for cash, often to support unhealthy behaviors.

Watch, he said, what happens if you pull through a drive-thru, buy a couple of burgers and give them to a panhandler. It’s not unusual, he said, for the burgers to get tossed when the kind stranger pulls away.

There are smarter, healthier ways to support those who are truly homeless than giving money to people on street corners, Straughan said. Always good: give money to church, he said; many congregations support efforts to help the homeless. Other choices include:

• “Real Change” vouchers, which include information on community resources available to the homeless, with a bus pass. At www.homelessalliance.org, click on the link on the left, and print out vouchers to carry in the car. “If it’s a person who is genuinely in need of help, with the voucher you’ve given them access to get their needs met,” Straughan said. “If it’s otherwise, you have not contributed to their ongoing self-destruction.”

• “Compassion Cards,” which include a telephone number to arrange a free ride to the City Rescue Mission. At www.cityrescue.org, click on the Compassion Card and bring copies to carry in the car. Straughan said the City Rescue Mission provides meals and a place to sleep — “two hots and a cot” — and more, including a medical clinic, job training and placement, and housing assistance.

• Buy a copy of Curbside Chronicle, Oklahoma’s street magazine. Publishers recruit panhandlers to sell the magazine; Straughan said every panhandler who has worked consistently with Curbside Chronicle over its first year has earned enough to get into housing, and many have found more conventional employment.

• Support the 100 government, nonprofit and faith-based agencies that are working with the homeless in Oklahoma City.

People panhandle because it works, Straughan said.

“The reason it works is because people are generous and want to help,” he said. “There’s healthy ways to help. Giving cash to a panhandler is not one of them.”

Worth considering: USA Today reported last month that the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty surveyed 187 U.S. cities and found that more are banning activities, such as loitering and panhandling, that frequently are associated with homelessness. Not so in the Oklahoma City metro area, where communities work closely with agencies such as the Homeless Alliance that are addressing the consequences of poverty, Straughan said.

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by William Crum
Reporter
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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