Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Please Help, Don’t Shop

It’s Irony Tuesday again!

Just a few short blocks from the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention a new campaign is underway spearheaded by downtown business owners. It’s called "Please Help Don't Give," and it’s targeting panhandlers.

Businesses plan to post "Please Help, Don't Give" signs as part of a public education campaign designed to get visitors to not give panhandlers any money. (I’m trying to decide who this helps. Any ideas?)

The plan is the brainchild of Tom Turner and the Downtown Partnership, an organization representing business interests. It’s modeled after one in Denver, where they tell people in lieu of giving money to street people, they should instead give to agencies that serve the homeless.

The Downtown Partnership’s plan seems to be a little different. They will start telling Nashville’s tourists “Don’t Give” in 30 days. The rest of it -- the funds supporting local social service agencies, etc. -- well, they haven’t worked that part out yet. They’ll get to it, I’m sure.

Personally, I have a moral problem with a campaign called “Don’t Give.” Those are terrible words to put together and blast around the city. And I don’t think it’s Tom Turner's or anyone else’s business what I choose to do with my money. I certainly don’t need a bunch of business people serving as my conscience.

I got a look at some minutes from the “Don’t Give” meeting. This struck me:
Turner said most people who give money to panhandlers are visitors, regional residents and hotel guests. Part of the initiative is to let them know that services are available (example: over 60 places to get a free meal), that it is “okay” to say “no” to a panhandler, and to encourage giving to service agencies. Similar campaigns have been conducted in other cities, with some success. Printed materials (e.g., brochures, informational business cards for panhandlers and for downtown visitors, posters) will be distributed. 

There’s a lot wrong with this. For one thing, services are not available. The city has never adequately funded the social services agencies that deal with the homeless, such as housing, drug addiction, employment, etc. Money is nowhere near adequate to the task, and telling tourists otherwise is a flat-out lie.

Secondly, the problem is not that homeless people don’t know where the services are. As anyone who has worked with the homeless will tell you, word about a new service or agency spreads faster than the latest Lindsey Lohan gossip on the MSM. The problem is that when they get to that agency, one finds they are out of money for the month already. Many of these agencies depend on Federal funds and as we all know, the Feds have been focused on creating a homeless population in Iraq, not helping the one at home.

Finally, pushing the “it’s OK to say no” message is just flat out immoral. What Would Jesus Do? For real? I think that’s the problem with the city, this country, the entire world. Too many people saying “don’t give.”

I’ve got my own “don’t give” message. If I see one of those signs in a downtown store window, I won’t give that establishment my business.