As the weather warms up, so does panhandling in downtown Durango. The Durango Business Improvement District wants to remind everyone to give to charities and not to panhandlers.
The issues of homelessness and panhandling are sometimes related, but many times they are two separate things. Local research shows that the chronic homeless in Durango do not panhandle very often, and in fact only do so as a last resort. Regular panhandlers in downtown tend to be travelers who are not a part of our community, and thus are not as connected to our town.
It is not illegal to panhandle, but it is illegal to act aggressively while panhandling. Acting aggressively includes touching someone without their consent; using violent, threatening, intimidating, coercive or aggressive gestures while panhandling or in response to a refusal by any person to give; using fighting words or directing violent or obscene verbal language while panhandling or in response to a refusal by a person to give; or taking action that blocks a public sidewalk, entryway or doorway used by pedestrians in a manner that causes someone to take evasive action.
It’s also illegal to consume marijuana in public, to drink alcohol in public, to be intoxicated and a danger to oneself in public, or to threaten, intimidate and litter. Unfortunately, these are the very things many downtown panhandlers choose to do in the course of a day. If anyone witnesses any of these illegal behaviors, BID encourages them to call police at the non-emergency dispatch number, 375-2900.
Before taking the BID job about four years ago, I ran our local United Way for 10 years. During that time, I interacted with many different nonprofit service organizations. I learned from these organizations that donating to panhandlers rarely, if ever, helps that person. A dollar or two might be used to solve a crisis, but nine times out of 10, the panhandler will use donations to continue self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol abuse or illegal drug use. If you look closely downtown, you will see the same people over and over. To me, that proves that giving your hard earned dollar is not helping as they end up in the same place day after day.
If you are asked to donate to someone, please politely decline, and instead direct that donation to a local charity. BID has set up multiple donation boxes inside downtown businesses. Look for these at the checkout counters and please donate there. Last year, nearly 2,000 people chose to donate to charity instead of to panhandlers.
This is a tough issue to be sure, and it is everyone’s own choice as to what they decide to do. BID asks for your consideration of our request the next time you encounter a panhandler in downtown.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim Walsworth is the executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District.