Stop Panhandling Campaign Update

April 2,2009

A recently completed survey conducted in Downtown, Buckhead and Midtown indicates that while a Citywide campaign, “Give Change That Makes Sense”, designed to re-direct giving to panhandlers, is having some effect, more enforcement is needed to curb aggressive panhandlers and education for the general public not to give to panhandlers.

The survey, conducted by The Schapiro Group (in-person pedestrian contact – Feb. 24 – March 4, 2009), sought to benchmark the impact of the campaign launched six months ago with the backing of the Mayor’s office, the Atlanta Police Department, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and Central Atlanta Progress.

“We want to give this three-tiered effort a chance to settle in and give the messaging a chance to be absorbed by residents, employees, visitors and conventioneers,” said A.J. Robinson, President of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. “It looks like from the preliminary results that we’re having an impact and making some progress.”

According to Robinson, the strategies deployed in the campaign were: stepped-up enforcement by public and private forces; public education; and redirected giving (giving meters).

Forty-six percent of all respondents throughout all survey areas said that panhandling was a major problem, with the highest percentage of respondents in the Downtown area (58%), followed by Midtown (43%) and Buckhead (36%). During the past six months of the campaign, the Atlanta Police made 223 arrests and more than 100 interventions for panhandling.

Respondents indicated they were more likely to be panhandled in Downtown or Midtown (respectively 69 and 67%), however overall almost 60% of all respondents ignored panhandlers’ requests.

The impact of educational materials, distributed through hotels and businesses designed to reach employees, residents, visitors and conventioneers, was deemed by 60% of the respondents in Downtown and Midtown as helping. Overall 63% of all respondents felt that more needed to be done to educate people on how to help those in need as an alternative to giving to panhandlers.

Of the three-tiered portions of the campaign strategy, the ‘giving meters’ were deemed the least obvious, with only 7% of respondents overall saying they had noticed them. “Currently only a few meters are in place on sidewalks and private property throughout Buckhead, Downtown and Midtown, but more are to come. That’s good, because over half of all respondents indicated that more meters should provide an alternative to giving money to panhandlers,” said Robinson.

According to Debi Starnes, policy advisor for homeless in the Mayor’s office, more than $500 has been collected through re-directed giving to homeless services instead of panhandlers through the ‘giving meters’. “That money can provide 5 weeks of transitional housing with intensive professional services for someone in need instead of being funneled to destructive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse. This is a clear indication that we can change behavior of those who want to give to a more productive end. With more than 30% of respondents still giving panhandlers money, we’ve still got some education to do. Giving to panhandlers is simply not a productive act of charity.”