What should we do about panhandling in downtown Durango? This is a tricky subject to say the least.
Like many communities around the country, Durango has experienced a dramatic increase in panhandling. There are many organizations working diligently to address this issue.
Durango is a very caring community.
I have lived here since 2003, and I have seen numerous times in big ways and small ways how we respond to needs when we see them. This community spirit is the main reason I have chosen to raise my family in Durango.
When it comes to panhandling, this community spirit of helping and a group of people who seem to be taking advantage of it are at odds.
Panhandling is not illegal; it is protected under the First Amendment of our Constitution. It is illegal to block the sidewalk, act aggressively, trespass or to be intoxicated in public, but it is not illegal to panhandle.
While most of us think we would never ask for donations in that manner, a homeless person I talked with the other day said, “Try not eating for three or four days straight, and you might fly a sign, too.”
In further speaking with people experiencing homelessness now or in the recent past, a distinction is made between homeless individuals in crisis and transient panhandlers. In some cases, these might be one and the same, but in other cases, there are some who chose to panhandle as a lifestyle who don’t necessarily want any other services provided by our generous community.
Being a transient panhandler is not a crime, and it is each person’s right to live how they want. However, this population can negatively impact our downtown businesses and also give a bad impression to people who are visiting downtown.
What, then, can be done? I encourage locals and visitors to downtown Durango to give to local charities instead of panhandlers.
I know from firsthand experience running our local United Way of the amazing work done by these organizations. I encourage everyone to continue to support our local charities.
Instead of giving a dollar to someone panhandling, give that dollar to Manna Soup Kitchen. Instead of giving food to someone on the street, donate it to the Durango Food Bank. Instead of giving toiletries to someone, donate them to the Homeless Shelter. If people in need in our community require help, these agencies and more are available for them.
These organizations and others like them know how to put donations to the best use. Our local charities are literally changing and saving lives each and every day. The more support our community can provide, the more help they can give.
Please give to local charities and not to panhandlers.
email@example.com. Tim Walsworth is the executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District.