Real Change for Our City’s Panhandlers

Real Change for Our City’s Panhandlers

November 15, 2017


                This past July, the Office of Homeless Services launched the #RealChange campaign “Show You Care, But Not Right Here,” an effort to address the recent rise in panhandling in Philadelphia. November’s Roundtable featured Liz Hersh, Director of the Office of Homeless Services. Hersh discussed the current state of panhandling in Philadelphia by sharing the results of a research study conducted by OHS, as well as what the #RealChange campaign aims to do.

To address peoples’ concerns, OHS conducted a study to figure out the demographics of panhandlers and why they panhandle. The results of the study showed that not all panhandlers are homeless, but they are experiencing economic insecurity. Many live in subsidized housing or rely on disability income and use panhandling to supplement their income. On average, panhandlers earn $20 a day, $60 at most, and as low as $7 a day. Hersh mapped the demographics of people experiencing homelessness, and revealed that the panhandling population is not representative of the homeless population. The panhandling population is younger, whiter and more representative of the population impacted by the opioid epidemic.

The research study asked participants if they would be interested in a plan to address panhandling. OHS responded with Real Change, a public education campaign, and the Text to Give Campaign, an alternative for people who are not comfortable giving money on the street. Since July, $4,300 have been raised from 1500 donors. The money from this campaign will be used to provide housing and services for people living on the street. OHS also hopes to provide support for low-barrier employment —  a strategy for creating low-skill jobs for people with behavioral health or other challenges that may shut them out of the traditional labor market.

After the presentation, roundtable attendees broke up into small groups to discuss the following questions: What is needed to develop and expand opportunities for low barrier employment? And how can we create new incentives for those who are content to panhandle on the street, so that they will come in for services and receive support in locating alternatives to panhandling?

Roundtable attendees suggested that coalition building be used as starting point, so that different organizations can know what programs are out there and figure out how to align their efforts. As an example of a new opportunity for low-barrier employment, one table suggested a service where businesses can have sidewalks shoveled and salted, alleys cleaned and other services that aren’t covered by the City.  Other tables emphasized the need for transparency and peer outreach to help people trust programs and turn away from panhandling. Overall, everyone agreed there is a need to communicate a mutual benefit from these programs; there is a return on investment and an intrinsic value to connecting people to the dignity and stability that can come from earning an income.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this Roundtable!