How do we support the homeless without enabling panhandlers?

CINCINNATI -- One by one, Ohio cities are abandoning their panhandling bans after legal claims that they violate the First Amendment. Cincinnati city leaders said they’re approaching panhandlers differently to avoid ending up in court.

“We’re trying to be proactive and not end up in a litigious situation,” city manager Harry Black said. “We’re going to always enforce, but in order to enforce now, based on the court decisions, we have to do it in a certain way.”

That means you won’t see authorities writing tickets to people who ask for money on the street, but instead adding more off-duty police downtown and working with groups that can provide social services to homeless Cincinnatians. 

“Those who want to work, we’re going to provide means for them to have transportation,” Black said.

But the city still wants to discourage panhandling. Black said one way Cincinnati could support its homeless population while discouraging panhandlers is to install donation meters -- similar to parking meters -- around town. Contributions to these meters would go directly to organizations that support low-income Cincinnatians.

Roger Howell, president of City Gospel Mission, said it’s better to fund services like these than to give money to people on the street. 

“People go 'Roger, you work with the homeless. You have a shelter. You don't want us to give?' No, I don't want you to give,” he said. “I love the homeless as much as I do my kids. You’ve got to challenge them."

Similar meter systems have been established in cities including Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Portland, Maine.

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