N.O. group offers alternative to giving panhandlers cash - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

N.O. group offers alternative to giving panhandlers cash


NEW ORLEANS - Along Earhart Tuesday, panhandlers worked the corners at numerous intersections, while an encampment of tents and mattresses lay scattered underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway – visible signs of the city problem.

"Tonight, there are 2,400 homeless people in New Orleans," said Martha Kegel, Executive Director at UNITY of Greater New Orleans.

Kegel said homelessness in the city has actually dropped 80 percent since 2007, but the rate here is still one of the nation's worst.

"We still have a higher rate of homelessness now than we did pre-Katrina," she said. "It's now about 14 percent higher than it was pre-Katrina."

The growing encampment sits not far from homeless shelter, New Orleans Mission.

With panhandlers fanning out across the entire area, Mission workers are pushing a new way for the public to help.

"The goal is not to give them cash because it's going to be an enabler that will keep them out on the street. We want them in the New Orleans Mission," said Mission Director, Pastor Ronell Williams. "We see it all the time. They use (cash) for drugs, alcohol, you know, you see it all the time."

Instead of handing over a dollar, Williams urges a donation to the Mission instead.

The cash will help pay for food and other supplies, and you'll get a slips to hand that next panhandler who approaches. The slip encourages that person to stop by the shelter and utilize its free resources.

"The person can come in and receive free clothing, free food and free shelter - everything that they need," Williams said.

Kegel believes it's a step in the right direction.

"(The panhandler) may have a mental illness, but they may also have a substance abuse problem and if you give them cash it may actually be compounding the problem, rather than truly helping them," Kegel said. "One thing to keep in mind is that, a lot of people who are begging are -- even though they may have a sign that says they are homeless -- may not, in fact, be homeless."

As for the growing homeless encampment near downtown, a spokesman from the mayor's office said the city is monitoring the situation, but he did not comment on whether any action would be taken.

No one with the city was available for an interview.

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