Chandler discouraging panhandler support - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler discouraging panhandler support

July 18th, 2022 SanTan Sun News

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

A city official says Chandler residents are very willing to help when it comes to the growing homeless population, but that it might be doing more harm than good.

 Now, the City of Chandler is starting a campaign to discourage citizens from giving money to panhandlers.

 Riann Balch, city community resources manager, told City Council at its June 23 meeting that giving money to the homeless people on street corners is not really going to help them and could make things worse.

“Panhandling in Chandler, specifically, is extremely lucrative,” Balch said. “We’re a very generous community. Unfortunately, panhandling, while the intent is very good, the outcome is very bad.”

“The longer you live on the street, the faster you die,” she said. “So the average age for somebody that lives on the street is 49. That’s a very short lifespan.”

Balch argued that giving money to panhandlers may solve their immediate needs, but it’s allowing them to continue to live on the streets. 

If people chose to give another way, then unsheltered people would be forced to seek out the city services that can help them get headed in the right direction again.

The city is starting a marketing effort this summer to encourage residents to help the homeless without giving money to panhandlers by emphasizing the ChangeUp program, which it  introduced in 2018.

It will be using two different sets of signs to get the message out. 

The first set will be near freeways. Unlike in 2018, the city can put signs on freeway land controlled by the Arizona Department of Transportation. However, city officials must follow ADOT rules that even dictate what words can appear on the sign.

Crews put up the metal signs on poles last week near the off-ramps of highways at 14 different locations around Chandler. ADOT limits those signs to being in the same location for 30 days at a time. So, the city plans to rotate them to other off-ramps in the city. 

There are three sets of locations for the 14 signs. Balch said their rotation plan is designed to maximize that.

Balch said the city is also planning to put up about 50 of its own signs on city streets around town, asking residents to give to ChangeUp instead of panhandlers. Those would likely start to be posted around town at the end of next month.

Three Phoenix City Council members are having similar signs posted on light poles in their districts.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio started that program and has had signs posted at various intersections in Ahwatukee.

But it’s anybody’s guess how much of an impact those signs might have because there is no way to monitor that.

The ChangeUp program collects money for the nonprofit For Our City Chandler. All the money donated to ChangeUp then goes to the city’s eight navigators, who are tasked with working directly with the homeless population in the city, helping them get whatever resources they need.

“Navigators then can use it for things that a government grant …  wouldn’t necessarily support,” Balch said. “For instance, if we need to put somebody in rehab right off that corner, we’ll pay the first week while we are working with them to get their insurance in place.”

She said the money could also go to paying for a taxi ride so they can get to a medical appointment, or helping them get cleaned up for a job interview.

The navigators have a lot of discretion to give money however they think will help that person best. However, Balch said she personally reviews and approves every request so there is some control on how the money is spent.

Balch said so far Chandler residents have given about $20,000 since the ChangeUp program began in 2018. She said more help is needed, because the number of homeless in Chandler is increasing significantly.

“We know that homelessness across our area, across our state, and certainly across our country is growing,” Balch said. “And a lot of that is tied back to the housing for all incomes, and affordable housing.”

She said they are seeing more people who simply can’t afford to live in the city any longer. 

Landlords raise rents to keep up with market demand, and they can no longer afford to stay in their place. When they go looking for a new place, prices everywhere are up and they can’t find a place they can afford.

Balch said only about 20% of the homeless people they work with have either mental health or substance abuse issues.

City Council approved a Community Development Block Grant request for nearly $110,000 to help the city’s homeless population at its June 23 meeting.

It also approved other grants for about $73,000 for a public housing youth program and $21,500 for temporary housing and case coordination for the homeless.

All that money comes from the federal government through a Housing and Urban Development program. The city received a little more than $1.4 million. Council then decided how they would distribute that money.

The city also handed out nearly $1.1 million in general funds to local nonprofits, something they do each year. This year they were able to hand out more because of about $350,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

AZCEND, a nonprofit that helps the homeless among other things, received four different grants for a total of $410,000. The grants included money for their food bank and senior nutrition programs.

The city gave out $1.438 million to 48 programs. Nonprofits had requested more than $2.9 million for 54 programs.

“I think it’s important to note that providing homeless services is much less costly than not providing homeless services,” Balch told Council.

 “So, when you don’t provide homeless services, what you have is an unsheltered population who are using our public services as their main source of service,” she added. 

She noted that many of these people “have lots of contact with police and fire, they go to the hospital and use the emergency room like it’s their doctor.”

“They’re involved with the criminal justice system just for survival to meet their basic needs. Living like that costs, exponentially, more than being stably housed. 

“We can safely house people and provide support services for a fraction of the cost of people using our public services in a way that they weren’t meant to.” 

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