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City’s stance on panhandling draws ire

Robert Bell, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Posted 11/16/22

The City of Rochester says it's seen a significant increase in aggressive, coordinated panhandling— and its response has put City Hall at odds with social advocates.

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City’s stance on panhandling draws ire

Posted

ROCHESTER — The City of Rochester says it's seen a significant increase in aggressive, coordinated panhandling— and its response has put City Hall at odds with social advocates.

“We recognize that there are people in need in our community and that many of us feel a deep sense of responsibility for others,” the city said in a statement released in late October.

“We also recognize the impact that coordinated, and aggressive panhandling has on residents, visitors, and businesses in Rochester,” the statement added.

According to the city’s director of communications Barbara Pierce, increased activity in areas like Monroe Avenue has alarmed residents and hurt businesses that rely on foot traffic for customers.

In response, the city has launched the “Be The Change, Keep The Change” pilot program designed to discourage panhandling while connecting those on the streets to food, shelter, and healthcare resources.

The announcement faced fierce backlash on social media.

“City Hall is doing this because we are hearing from people who are very, very concerned,” Pierce said. “This is an innovative approach, and we are committed to doing a lot of innovative things to address the problem.”

Many social workers see the city’s housing crisis as the real problem.

In Monroe County, 815 people experience homelessness on any given night, according to the local non-profit Partners Ending Homelessness. Though not every person panhandling is homeless, social advocate Joel Yager believes the perception of people on the street leads to a lack of compassion.

“Anytime anyone sees a panhandler; they already have a perception about who that person is and what they’re going to do with the money,” he said.

Yager is the owner of Sober Life Radio, an organization committed to spreading awareness, providing resources, and breaking stigmas associated with addiction.

Over the last year, Yager has worked with people living at the Loomis Street homeless encampment. This tent city was recently involved in a federal lawsuit against the city of Rochester and its plans to clear the camp.

Yager believes the city’s recent stance on panhandling is just another example of “the haves throwing away the have-nots.”

The city insists that its new program is not targeting those living on the street that need resources. “The city hears both from advocates who want to protect the rights of panhandlers as well as residents and business owners who have been loud and clear about the negative impact that aggressive and coordinated panhandling has had on their businesses and quality of life,” Pierce said.

Instead of giving money to those asking on the street, the city encourages the public to donate funds to formalized street outreach teams, listing partners on their website.

Advocates like Yager believe that the approach does little to aid those who need it most.

“A lot of these people out there don’t belong to an agency and don’t want that restriction on their life,” he said. “If you think you’re going to give money to an agency and it’s going to make it back to the guy on the corner, that’s not what happens.”

The city expressed it will continue supporting those doing outreach while encouraging people to consider donating to longer-term solutions.

In the meantime, Yager urges the public not to judge every person they see asking for a few bucks. “If you go to a restaurant and give the waitress a tip, do you ever think maybe she’s going to go buy drugs with the money,” Yager asked. “That would be ridiculous, right?”

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