Montgomery County officials are making a push to stop residents from giving money to panhandlers by offering a text-donation service.
By texting “SHARE” to 80077, residents can contribute to $5 to the Community Foundation of Montgomery County a nonprofit, non-government organization that will distribute the proceeds to homeless shelters, homeless prevention groups and others helping those in need.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large), Police Chief Thomas Manger, homeless advocates and others gathered in Wheaton on Monday, near where known panhandler Mary Josephine Fish was killed in May, to announce the initiative.
Fish, 52, was killed when a car jumped the median she was on and hit her.
County officials are emphasizing two things in their message: That panhandling is unsafe and handing a person in-need a dollar or two on the street can only make their problem worse.
It’s well known that panhandlers can spend most of their money on alcohol, drugs or other things that are only harmful to their health and safety.
Still, homeless nonprofit workers say they see drivers hand money over all the time.
“Giving someone a dollar, that might make me feel better, but that’s not really what giving is about,” said Amy Freeman, development director for Bethesda homeless prevention nonprofit Bethesda Cares.
Police say they frequently get calls from people worried about panhandlers operating on dangerous medians. Panhandling isn’t illegal.
“If you want the panhandling issue to go away, stop giving money to panhandlers,” Manger said. “That’s what’s going to solve this problem.”
The county will put the anti-panhandling message in public service announcements, county facilities, emails, a new website and a social media effort.