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A sign on Main Street discourages donations to panhandlers. As part of a new campaign, downtown merchants will offer donation boxes, with funds going to homelessness serves providers.
Sarasota Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 7 years ago

Downtown merchants work to discourage panhandling

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The effects of homelessness consultant Robert Marbut on the city of Sarasota are murky more than a year after his hiring, but some downtown businesses are working to remind residents of one of his recommendations.

On Thursday, the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association will launch a campaign to discourage panhandling. Called “Downtown Cares,” the program is intended to raise awareness of the possible negative effects of giving food and money directly to homeless people.

In a report last year, Marbut’s first recommendation for Sarasota was to move away from a “culture of enablement,” which he said was abetted by donations to panhandlers. Marbut said that, though those who give to panhandlers are well intentioned, that activity serves to perpetuate and increase homelessness.

“The mission should no longer be to serve the homeless community; instead, the mission should be to dramatically and consequentially increase “street graduation” rates,” Marbut wrote. “A media and public awareness campaign needs to be developed to educate and encourage the community to move from a culture of enablement to a culture of engagement.”

As part of the campaign, 36 downtown businesses will have donation boxes available for customers to help support homelessness service providers like the Salvation Army. Informational signs will also be placed downtown to discourage donations to panhandlers, and businesses will offer cards that list local service providers that offer food, shelter and clothes.

Ron Soto, president of the merchants association, said more public education needed to be done to help redirect citizens to more productive means of supporting the homeless population. Already, he said, panhandling has become less of an issue downtown following Marbut’s report.

He hopes that, once the Downtown Cares campaign begins, those handouts will become even more infrequent an occurrence.

“It is way less (of a problem) than it was six months ago,” Soto said regarding panhandling. “We’re on the right track.”

Contact David Conway at [email protected].

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