You're stopped at the intersection and see a man down on his luck, holding a sign. He just needs food. He's asking for whatever you can spare. You give him your loose cash-enough for a snack at least-and wish him well. 

But- Giving spare change to panhandlers is only a short-term solution. It doesn't create long-term results.  Throughout August in partnership with the City of Spokane and with help from local partners, you will see information as part of a public education campaign about the realities of how change is used.

"In reality, when we give money to panhandlers we are actually doing a disservice," says Rob McCann, Executive Director at Catholic Charities. "Each dollar handed out a car window marches the recipient closer to a life of chaos, addiction, suffering, and even death."

McCann shares these observations from his years working with the panhandling population in Spokane:

  • Many panhandlers are battling addiction. They use the dollars they collect to buy drugs and alcohol, further trapping them in a cycle of suffering. Giving to panhandling increases problems with public drunkenness and encourages overutilization of already overwhelmed police, ambulance, hospital, and social services.

  • Giving to panhandlers only makes it harder for social service agencies to reach out and help the individuals and families that are truly in need. You will likely never see the truly poor members of our community, yet they suffer from the negative image created unfairly by panhandlers.

  • Panhandlers make good money-they can collect $75 to $100 a day-and use a number of techniques that have proven effective. One is using a dog to entice animal lovers (often a single dog will rotate in shifts through a group of chronic panhandlers). Another is holding a sign that says "homeless" or "retired vet"-even if it's not true. The majority of chronic "regular" panhandlers are not homeless. The live in assistance programs or small apartments and simply use panhandling to feed destructive habits.

The "Give Real Change" campaign launches today. Working hand-in-hand with Mayor Condon's Task Force on Urban Environment, we're asking individuals to help stop panhandling at the "supply source" in hopes that without the supply, the demand will wane.

In addition, Give Real Change seeks to channel Spokane's compassionate spirit into giving real change. Residents who feel compelled can contribute online to fund downtown initiatives on public safety, mental health services, job programs for youth, and low barrier housing for adults.  Funds will support local organizations making a measurable difference.

"When you give to local organizations you fund real change," says McCann at Catholic Charities "People who genuinely want to work toward recovery and self-sufficiency will receive tools to succeed. Trained professionals can match needs with services and empower people to build a better life."

Join us in spreading the word and creating real change. Along with resources for giving and volunteering, you can find communication tools to share with friends and co-workers at www.realchangespokane.org.