Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmember George Leventhal joined representatives from homeless advocates, grassroots social service agencies, the faith community, and the Police today to launch a joint public education campaign to address panhandling in Montgomery County.
The news conference was held next to the busy intersection of Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road where Mary Josephine Fish, aged 52 and a known panhandler, was killed last May 16 when an automobile jumped the median and struck her.
“Panhandling is not safe and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help them,” said Leventhal, who chairs the Council Health & Human Services Committee.
“We all know the feeling. We want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We feel guilty. We all want to help. The question isn’t whether to help – it’s how.
That’s why Montgomery County government is joining together with homeless advocates and social service providers throughout the County to urge you to give a hand-up, not a hand-out.
“Those who work daily with panhandlers in homeless advocacy and other social service groups know that most panhandlers use the money they collect to support their addictions – drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. None of that helps panhandlers to solve their problems.”
I hear a lot from County residents who are concerned about the proliferation of panhandlers at intersections throughout the County,” said Leggett.
“I agree that the status quo is unacceptable. Even though panhandling is legal under the First Amendment and Maryland law, it is not a safe thing to do and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help.
“By texting ‘SHARE’ on your cell phone to 80077 you will contribute to grassroots efforts throughout the County to make sure people get the food, shelter, health care and help solving their problems that will make a real difference.
“The County Office of Public Information is coordinating efforts that will include messages on our buses, public service announcements, signs in County facilities, email and listserve messages, a new website, social media and other outreach designed to spread the word.”
In addition to improving the safety of those in the median strips and the drivers, we applaud the County’s efforts to harness the wonderful generosity of our neighbors,” said Susan Kirk, executive director of Bethesda Cares. “Montgomery County is a very giving and caring community. People respond to assist those they perceive in need. Now together we will work for long term solutions rather than short term fixes.”
“We want to give these folks the help they need but the way to do it is not to give them cash on the street,” said Police Chief Tom Manger. “The way to do it is to donate that money to organizations that help. Panhandling in the roadway is dangerous and causes distractions for drivers.
“If you want to see the panhandling issue go away, stop giving money to panhandlers.”
For more information, go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/panhandling.
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