A group of Fort Worth civic and business organizations and the city of Fort Worth launched a public education campaign Tuesday designed to cut down on panhandling and help people out of homelessness, called "A Better Way to Offer Change."
Recognizing that panhandling is a citywide problem, the campaign encourages people who would give a panhandler spare change to instead donate the money via a text message to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, which is funded in part by the city's Directions Home program.
Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., one of the organizations involved in the new campaign, said it's hard for people to tell panhandlers no, but giving actually makes the beggar's problem worse. And panhandling behavior flourishes in areas where people are giving money, he said.
"People in Fort Worth ... have big hearts, and whenever someone asks for help, we more often than not give them that help," Taft said. But, he said, "It hurts businesses, it makes people feel unsafe, it damages reputations of locations of stores and cities, and it intimidates people, and all of that is bad."
The money donated can go to help people pay housing application fees and security deposits, buy a bus ticket or motel vouchers for stranded people, and mattresses. Donations can be made by texting "FWCHANGE" to 41444. The money will go into the Direct Client Services Fund.
In January 2017, the City Council strengthened the city's panhandling ordinance to allow for stricter enforcement against those considered to be panhandling aggressively. As a result, last year Fort Worth police issued 1,016 panhandling-related citations, including four for aggressive panhandling on private property.
Many panhandlers are not homeless and don't use the money for necessities, and giving only encourages more panhandling, the groups said.
"It's a good plan, frankly. I'm in support of it," said Toby Owen, CEO of the Presbyterian Night Shelter.
Panhandling is against city ordinance and in the past couple of years, the council has discussed how panhandling, particularly aggressive panhandling, can be ended.
"This is something we've been talking about for quite some time," said District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh. "Having this solution, telling (donors) something they can do to be helpful, is a positive way to go about it."
Fort Worth is not alone in trying to combat aggressive panhandling. Last year, Salt Lake City launched a public education campaign that urges individuals to give to service providers and not to the beggar.
Several years back, Atlanta launched "Stop Panhandling. Give Change that Makes Sense."