Panhandling doesn’t solve homelessness

Earlier this week, Cookeville officials installed signs at popular panhandling intersections in town asking passersby not to give money out the window but to give to charities instead.

This move came after months of complaints to the city police department about a drastic increase in panhandling, specifically as some panhandlers become more aggressive toward passing motorists, including yelling profane insults and blocking traffic, creating a hazard for both pedestrians and drivers.

Also to address the panhandling problem, the city council agreed over a year ago to partner with the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency’s Substance Abuse Solutions program to help people with whatever needs they have from getting help for substance abuse to housing.

UCHRA Regional Housing Specialist Luke Eldridge said they’ve helped nearly 250 people with food, clothes, gas cards, peer support, mental health, domestic violence situations and overdoses. But not everyone wants to be helped. Eldridge said 28 people refused, and they’ve been unable to locate 89 people who were referred to the program.

Since news of the signs circulated this week, some have expressed anger in response, saying they’ll give to whomever they want to and they don’t worry about what people do with the money they give them. We can certainly understand why some people feel that way, but true need and homelessness won’t be solved by handing $20 to someone on a street corner.

We know there are so many organizations in our community dedicated to helping others, and we believe they want to help people as much as they can. With the federal moratorium on evictions coming to an end next week, we know the needs won’t go away.

A member of our newsroom who took a picture of the new “Say no to panhandling” sign Wednesday saw a man holding a sign that read “Homeless looking for odd jobs.”

Last time we checked, no one is giving out jobs on street corners, but within walking distance of some of our most popular panhandling corners are organizations that can help — like the Cookeville Rescue Mission, UCHRA, Helping Hands and dozens of churches.

We believe these organizations are doing far more to help the needy than handing money to people on the side of the road.

-The Cookeville Herald-Citizen