Edwin Schall takes a bus every day from Brooklyn Center to downtown Minneapolis, where he sits with a sign on his lap that says: “No Food. No Money. Hearing Loss. Any help appreciated. Thanks.”
All he wants is $20 for food. When he gets it, he leaves.
Schall and other panhandlers are fixtures on sidewalks busy with downtown pedestrians, but agencies are renewing efforts to stop visitors from dropping change and bills into their tins and boxes.
As part of a campaign called “Give Real Change,” billboards have popped up along Hennepin Avenue urging people to instead give money to the organization, which aims to end homelessness.
Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said the effort is designed to help panhandlers, not hurt them.
“Everyone agrees, five bucks on the street is just going to perpetuate a life circumstance that is not conducive to long-term health,” he said. “That five dollars would be better invested in longer-term solutions to deal with the root cause of someone’s homelessness.”
Money donated to Give Real Change goes to the Family Housing Fund, which distributes money to shelters and other aid organizations in Minneapolis. Its website says $25 can buy a transit pass for someone with a new job; $50 can buy groceries for family who just moved into a new apartment, and $500 is enough for an emergency support group to pay rent or a mortgage for one month.
Schall disagrees with the campaign. He says not all panhandlers want to go to shelters because they do not feel safe or they just want to be out on their own.
“Panhandling has been around for generations,” he said. “To say they shouldn’t do it is completely wrong.”
Depholdia Scott, from Chicago, was also out on Nicollet Mall, just one block from Schall’s usual spot. He said he has been in Minnesota for seven months and typically stays at the Salvation Army’s shelter. He said Tuesday was his first time asking for money in downtown.
“I just want to get home,” said Scott, who was hoping to get $120 for a bus ticket to Chicago.
The Downtown Council, Hennepin County, city of Minneapolis and other groups are part of Give Real Change, which started in late 2009. The groups want to end homelessness by 2025 for the 300 to 500 people they say sleep outside or in “inhumane places” in Minneapolis.
Panhandling is not illegal in the city, unless a panhandler becomes aggressive. Cramer said the council does not plan to ask law enforcement or the city to make panhandling illegal. Cramer said the billboards’ launch was not because of the upcoming MLB All-Star Game or any other sporting event.
Gail Dorfman, executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, has long been a supporter of the initiative because it can help a homeless person in the long term. People who give to panhandlers often get instant gratification from giving to those in need, but she cautioned the help is not long-lasting.
“The only way we are going to end homelessness and create long-lasting housing stability for these folks is to make sure that they get connected to services,” she said.