Fresno

Bredefeld renews push to combat rampant panhandling in Fresno

Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld will try again on Thursday to persuade his colleagues on the dais to embrace a smarter way to help the homeless.

Bredefeld is renewing a proposed initiative that asks people to stop giving cash handouts to the homeless (or, no doubt in many cases, panhandlers). Instead, Bredefeld’s initiative – titled “Help Us, Help Fresno” – proposes a way to combine two courses of alternative action into one.

First, Bredefeld says the money would be a wiser investment if donated directly to nonprofits trained in providing ameliorative services to a segment of the community’s most vulnerable population.

Second, Bredefeld’s initiative encourages people who find themselves in this vulnerable situation to seek help from these nonprofits.

Bredefeld is counting on signs in public spots to do the trick. The signs boil the message down to its essentials: Don’t give money to homeless/panhandlers; give your money to nonprofits of your choice; if you’re down on your luck, here’s a telephone number to get help.

Bredefeld told me on Monday that his initiative shows “that we in Fresno are serious about addressing the panhandling problem.”

Bredefeld’s initiative goes to the Council on Thursday.

There’s a long backstory to the initiative. City Hall officials for years have tried to discourage kind-hearted Fresnans from giving money directly to those portraying themselves on street corners and elsewhere as homeless and in desperate need of cash.

Fresno is blessed with nonprofits whose members are trained in helping those down on their luck. Fresno also has resources for those fleeing abusive situations.

One of the reasons for such a push over the years is the recognition that many of those on street corners with the hand-painted signs seeking cash aren’t really homeless. They’re dealing with various forms of addiction and only want money to pursue those demons without interference. Or, they’re simply leveraging the generosity of hardworking Fresnans into a money-making proposition.

The rise of panhandling is a serious quality of life issue in Fresno. That makes it a public policy challenge of the first rank for City Hall’s elected officials.

It’s enough here to simply note that Bredefeld has tried before to get his “Help Us, Help Fresno” idea through the Council. He’s hoping that the addition of Mike Karbassi to the District 2 seat on Thursday provides him with the winning margin.  

Bredefeld’s resolution specifies four specific courses of action:

1.) City Hall officially enacts the “Help Us, Help Fresno” initiative “to educate the public that directing donations to homeless service providers does greater good than giving a handout to individual panhandlers.”

2.) City Hall directs the placement of signage to “disseminate the message of the ‘Help Us, Help Fresno’ initiative. Signage shall be placed at intersections and/or areas selected in consultation with each Council District.”

3.) The signs should resemble an example posted on the City Clerk’s website. The example says: “Help Us, Help Fresno. Say No To Panhandling; Contribute To The Solution; Give To Local Charities; Need Help? Call: 559-5GO-HOPE.” The example includes a drawing of one hand giving money to another hand. This is taking place within a circle. The circle has a line drawn across the two hands – the time-tested visual signal prohibiting or discouraging some type of act. The phone number is for the Fresno Rescue Mission.

4.) City Hall is to publicize the message of the “Help Us, Help Fresno” initiative through social media and other media outlets.

And what is the initiative’s message? Bredefeld describes it in the “Whereas” portion of his resolution. What he describes is the challenge facing municipal governments in big cities all along the West Coast.

Bredefeld’s resolution says it is in City Hall’s interest “to educate its residents that charitable donations have a greater impact when directed to programs that help the homeless.”

At the same time, says the resolution, it’s hard for someone with spare change and a good heart to “vet the need and condition of a panhandler, and to know whether their handout is contributing more harm than good.”

Local businesses and neighborhoods are “often negatively impacted by panhandlers,” says the resolution. (I would suggest that the word “often” could be deleted from this sentence without fear of criticism by anyone with real world experience.)

Bredefeld’s resolution reminds Fresnans that City Hall “partners with nonprofits to provides services to the homeless.” The resolution reminds Fresnans that a “major barrier” to the success of this City Hall-nonprofits partnership is the inclination of some Fresnans to give panhandlers “handouts that dissuade them from getting the help they need.”

The resolution draws this conclusion: “the City wishes to educate its residents that handing money out a car window undercuts the work being done by the City and local nonprofits.”

All this leads Bredefeld’s resolution to summarize the “Help Us, Help Fresno” mission: “… to educate the public to contribute to the solution and support the services that help break the cycle of homelessness, while also referring those who turn to panhandling towards those services.”

Bredefeld told me on Monday that his “Help Us, Help Fresno” is “a very positive solution to dealing with this problem.”

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.