APD, Homeless Coalition conduct reverse panhandling effort

Alexandria, La. (Nov. 20, 2019) Alexandria Police officers and the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition conducted a reverse panhandling effort from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Tuesday at the intersection of Jackson Street and MacArthur Drive.

As part of the reverse panhandling effort, officers from APD joined with representatives from the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition, Volunteers of America and other support groups that provide services to the area’s homeless to pass out cards to motorists and explain how they can truly help individuals they encounter in the area asking for money.

“We understand residents want to help those who are less fortunate, especially this time of year with the holidays approaching and the cold weather,” Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall said. “But giving money to someone standing on a street corner isn’t helping them, more often than not it is simply enabling them to feed their compulsions. Unfortunately, we find that most of the time they use that money to buy drugs or alcohol, not to get food or shelter.”

Hall noted Tuesday’s card distribution was a next step in a continuing effort to educate residents. “We gave out cards to panhandlers last month, and today we gave cards to motorists,” Hall said. “It’s a start. And we will continue to work to inform residents and work with local service agency partners to reduce the number of panhandlers we have in Alexandria and to do all that we can to get people who are truly in need connected with the agencies that can help them.”

The cards that were distributed Tuesday urge people not to enable panhandlers by handing them money but rather to donate that money to local service agencies that provide services to the homeless, such as the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition and Volunteers of America.

“We have a number of great social services programs in Central Louisiana that can help individuals in need, whether it is because they are homeless or dealing with domestic violence issues or have some other crisis in their life,” explained Joseph Buzzetta, executive director of the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition. “And those organizations need donations and support from the community to provide help to meet the demand for those services. I realize it is tempting to stop and give someone asking for money a donation to cut out the middle man, but often that person uses the money for things other than food or shelter and it stops them from coming in to get the treatment they need.”

Instead, he said, donors should give that money to a non-profit organization that specializes in outreach. “The truth is we need more programs than we have in order to meet the various needs of our homeless community,” Buzzetta said. “When you donate to a local charitable support organization you give us the ability to create programs that increase our homeless community’s access to food, shelter, counseling, or other support services that they might need. You can count on those dollars being used to get these individuals the help they so desperately need and see the impact that your donations make.”

In August, Hall announced eight strategic priorities the administration planned to address. One of those priorities was to assess and update policies, ordinances and procedures for addressing complaints related to panhandling.  “We want to ensure people are not taking advantage of the kindness of our residents and we want to help homeless members of our community have more and clearer opportunities to get back on their feet,” Hall explained when the priorities were announced.

As a first step, the week of October 21 Alexandria Police officers started distributing community resource cards to panhandlers in the city. “We wanted to make sure that individuals in need were aware of and have access to local resources,” Buzzetta said. “The Community Resource Cards listed contact numbers for our homeless resource center on Jackson Street as well as the Volunteers of America. We also listed the Family Justice Center for domestic violence victims, the Hope House and Salvation Army for those in need of short-term shelter and Central Louisiana AIDS Support Services for those in need of HIV or AIDS support.”

“The distribution of the Community Resource Cards went very well,” said Alexandria Police Chief Jerrod King. “Officers passed them out and we received requests from local business owners to have cards so they could help spread the word as well. I think we’re all on the same page here – we need to get these people off of the streets and get them the help they need, and the trained professionals with the local service agencies are the best people to be able to do that.”

As was the case with the Community Resource Cards, Kinetix, an Alexandria business technology and integrated marketing company, is proud to partner with these local agencies, the City of Alexandria and APD in donating the design and printing of the information cards.

Residents wanting to learn more about services available to area homeless are encouraged to attend one of the upcoming Open House events offered by the Central Louisiana Homeless Coalition. Open Houses will be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Homeless Resource Center at 1515 Jackson Street on December 3, 10 and 17.