Plans for a new center at the eastern edge of Lawrence to serve the community’s homeless population appear to be moving ahead. However, even if that center becomes a reality, homeless advocates acknowledge it is unlikely to eliminate the issue of panhandlers in downtown Lawrence.
To better address what has become a perennial problem along Massachusetts Street, downtown Lawrence merchants have asked city officials to consider a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging downtown patrons to give money to social service agencies that serve homeless people rather than to panhandlers. It’s a creative approach that has been tried elsewhere and might work here.
The most obvious deterrent to panhandling is that it quits working, that people simply don’t give money to panhandlers. The idea of the marketing campaign is to give people who want to help the homeless population other options. One idea is to place signs and posters downtown reminding people that it’s better to give to social service agencies than to panhandlers. Some sort of donation boxes could be placed downtown for people who want to make such a gift. Merchants also might distribute cards listing agencies that help the homeless that downtown patrons can give to panhandlers instead of cash.
None of these options may be particularly pleasing to the panhandlers, but that’s OK. The inability to raise funds on the street may encourage more people to seek help. Those who don’t want that help can continue to take advantage of meal programs downtown but might give up on combing downtown sidewalks asking for change.
Lawrence is a generous community that continues to offer many services to the homeless. It’s not hardhearted to funnel money to agencies that can put it to good use to aid the homeless population. It’s a practical approach that could have the positive side-effect of diminishing a panhandling problem that is of continuing concern to downtown businesses and customers.