Earl holds up his cardboard sign in hopes to receive some change. Photo by Scott Ball.
Earl holds up his cardboard sign in hopes of receiving change from drivers passing by. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus has decided not to further pursue an ordinance that would have made it illegal to give money to panhandlers on the street or in traffic. Instead, he told the the Public Safety Committee Wednesday afternoon that the San Antonio Police Department’s efforts will be focused on an awareness campaign, directing citizens to donate to charitable organizations instead of giving on the street.

McManus said it became clear to him that the ordinance would not make it out of committee and would be difficult to enforce, so he decided to take a more “holistic approach.”

McManus presented the ordinance during last month’s meeting to the committee – chaired by District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and including District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher, District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales, District 7 Councilmember Mari Aguirre-Rodriguez, and District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier (who was absent Wednesday). Members expressed skepticism at that meeting, and public comment in many forums has been largely opposed to the ordinance. Read the comment section from our coverage of McManus’ presentation here.

“Instead of giving money (on the street) which will probably go to alcohol or drugs, the money that you send through this link will go to Haven for Hope,” he said. “This way you know where your money goes and what it’s used for.”

The “Change That Makes a Difference” campaign starts with a public service announcement video and continues throughout the community with SAPD officers handing out two-sided informational cards to would-be panhandlers and those that might give change – so, everyone, really.

The QR code, when scanned by a smart phone and provided with a link on one side of the card, directs you to Haven For Hope’s donation page on its website.

The SAPD's "Change That Makes a Difference" card.
The SAPD’s “Change That Makes a Difference” card.

“Although SAPD is partnering with Haven for Hope on this particular campaign, there are dozens of charities in the area who can accept your donations and do great things for people in need,” stated an SAPD press release announcing the campaign.

What are some of those charities and organizations that are helping to “move the needle” – to borrow the phrase – on homelessness? Try the San Antonio Food Bank, SAMMinistries, United Way of San Antonio and Bexar CountySeton Home (safe shelter),  Alamo Area Resource Center, and the San Antonio AIDS Foundation Transitional Housing, to name a few.

The other side of the card provides quick information about Haven for Hope’s programming and campus as well as the Courtyard, the 24/7 outdoor space with access to restrooms, showers, and meals. “All single, married (without children) who are homeless age 18 and over welcome.”

The SAPD's "Change That Makes a Difference" card.
The SAPD’s “Change That Makes a Difference” card.

Ironically, some of the requirements for entry into the main campus, as the card indicates, are “must be homeless; Bexar County resident for at least one year, with proof of residency …”

Haven For Hope has an ID Recovery Program to help homeless or displaced residents find the right people, paperwork, and phone numbers to take the next step towards regaining identification documents.

(Read more: Helping the Homeless Recover Identities)

Panhandling, on the panhandler’s side, remains illegal in San Antonio and violations carry a $200-$500 fine. It’s illegal to solicit money or things of value within 50 feet of certain areas, including banks, ATMs, parking meters/pay stations, outdoor dining areas, bus stops, stop lights and intersections, and more. It’s basically illegal everywhere “the public is considered vulnerable, or where solicitation would interfere with the flow of traffic.”

Permits are available by application to gain very limited, short-term access to roadways in order to collect money for charities. For example, during the San Antonio Fire Department’s Fill the Boot Campaign, firefighters are allowed to solicit donations from vehicles stopped at a traffic light.

SAPD has been working with the District Attorney’s office and Health and Human Services departments to develop avenues for repeat offenders to either enter rehabilitation facilities voluntarily or by court order.

After three or more citations, the District Attorney has the ability to increase a “frequent flyer’s” offense from a Class C misdemeanor – essentially a $500 traffic ticket  – to a Class B misdemeanor – a $2,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

*Featured/top image: Earl holds up his cardboard sign in hopes of receiving change from drivers passing by. Photo by Scott Ball.

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SAPD to Propose Anti-Panhandling Ordinance

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A Deeper Definition of Poverty in San Antonio

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org