“Give Real Change” Effort to Steer Money Away from Spokane’s Panhandlers

By Paige Browning

You may see posters soon in Spokane that read “Give Real Change”. It’s a new anti-panhandling campaign by the city and Downtown Spokane Partnership, meant to direct people’s money away from panhandlers and into area charities.
 
Downtown Spokane Partnership CEO Mark Richard, a former county commissioner, says by giving money to panhandlers, it enables them to remain in that situation. He says it discourages people from seeking services, and can feed addictions within the homeless population. Hence the public anti-panhandling effort.

Richard: “We are really about genuine change. But we can’t do that without the public, we have to change the flow of money and get it into the hands of professionals if we want to really see change.”
 
One unlikely supporter is Joseph Comstock, a man who grew up panhandling and fell into homelessness a few months ago.
 
Comstock: “I guarantee there is not one person that’s holding up one of those signs that’s panhandling that doesn’t already have food stamps. You can instantly just get it, you need help just go to Spokane. That’s why everybody’s coming up from California, Montana, doesn’t matter where it’s at, Spokane’s the spot.”
 
He’s working full time now, and living temporarily at Union Gospel Mission. Comstock says he’s invited many homeless men to work with him at a moving company, and not one person took him up on it. He says it’s because panhandling is an easy way out for them, and sometimes brings in more money than at a job. Because of this, he thinks Give Real Change is a good idea.
 
Comstock: “ I’ve been in such tight squeezes that I have no other option… but there’s something you can do day by day laboring, day labor, doesn’t matter, just go in there.”
 
He knows not everyone will agree with this, and so does Mark Richard.
 
Richard: “If you just caught the headline, you know ‘don’t give to panhandlers’. But the fact that this program is being developed with the directors of these major non-profits at the table, I think hopefully gives the public confidence that we are really about genuine change.”
 
The campaign does not ban panhandling, but asks people simply not to participate in it. A city ordinance from 2012 does prohibit aggressive panhandling on major arterials in the immediate downtown area.
 
Nationwide, the ACLU has taken anti-panhandling laws to court saying they are unconstitutional. The ACLU of Washington says since there are no actual restrictions on panhandling being proposed now, this isn’t something the union would comment on.
 
[In Spokane, I’m Paige Browning]
 
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio
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