The city of Santa Fe installed signs Tuesday at 10 busy intersections beggars frequent, urging motorists not to hand money to panhandlers but to give it to social services organizations instead.

“Say no to panhandling,” the signs say. “Give to local charities.”

The city in a news release said it is using an approach “that has proven successful in cities across the country that are grappling with issues of panhandling and homelessness.”

According to the news release, the initiative “is part of a larger approach to steer people in need to the appropriate services,” adding the city is establishing a fund to help indigent people who are struggling with housing, transportation, food insecurity and other issues.

The installation of the signs under a pilot program comes amid what appears to be a spike in panhandling in Santa Fe in recent years and more than a year after enforcement of the city’s controversial panhandling ordinance was suspended. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the city’s ordinance, which the City Council enacted in 2010, “legally indefensible” and a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.

“One of the things we know is that similar ordinances have run afoul of free speech, the protected free speech under the First Amendment,” city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said.

But Chacon said the signs installed by the city are different than the anti-panhandling ordinance that is no longer being enforced.

“We are not trying to outlaw panhandling,” she said. “We are trying to change the behavior of the giver.”

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, questioned whether the city’s signs will serve their intended purpose.

“The city feels like it has to respond in some way, and I guess that’s what they decided on, but I don’t know that it’s really going to stop panhandling,” he said. “I think that people panhandle because they need money, and that’s the only way they know to get it, so I think people will still panhandle.”

And some people, Hughes said, will still roll down their windows at traffic lights and give panhandlers money, food, socks or other items.

“I don’t always give to panhandlers, but sometimes if people seem really desperate, I do,” Hughes said. “I mean, I think most of us are kindhearted and want to help. ... The trouble is that it’s really hard to tell who is really in need and who is just really good at acting like they’re in need.”

Some Santa Feans complain panhandling has gotten out of control in the city and that panhandlers are growing increasingly aggressive.

“There is a man with a sign on the corner of Cerrillos and St. Francis today yelling obscenities and throwing rocks at people who don’t give him money,” a woman posted recently on the Santa Fe Bulletin Board Facebook page.

News of the city installing signs encouraging motorists to give money to local charities instead of to panhandlers generated mixed reactions online.

“Local [charities] are more equipped and can better screen the overall needs of these homeless people,” Johnny James Gabaldon wrote. “This is a great idea.”

Others, however, said they would ignore the signs.

“I will give to panhandlers and to charity,” Elaine Fattah wrote. “Don’t tell me where to give!”

Joseph Gonzales echoed a similar sentiment.

“I will continue to give change, hot dogs and burritos, too,” Gonzales wrote. “I seem to get it back in a roundabout way big time. Lord forbid you or anyone you love be in a similar situation one day. It is easier to be nice.”

The rollout of the signs also comes as the administration of Mayor Alan Webber pursues a national program designed to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Santa Fe. The Built for Zero program brings together different organizations already working to address homelessness, creating more alignment among those groups, and tailors a solution around the specific needs and circumstances of each individual.

But the city noted not all panhandlers are homeless.

Hughes said his staff interviewed panhandlers in Santa Fe, many of whom said they had fallen on tough times.

“It seemed like the people who were panhandling really were in some dire circumstances where they needed money to either keep from being homeless or to try to get out of being homeless,” he said. “I just think it’s kind of a sad commentary on our society that we have people who are so poor that they have to beg for money just to get by.”

The city acknowledged panhandling on public property is not illegal and said it respects free speech. But giving to charities instead of individuals creates long-term solutions by connecting people who are truly in need to the appropriate services and resources, the city said.

“Donations of time or money to local charities can go further and have a greater, longer-lasting impact on the homeless and needy than a single handout,” the city said. “We hope individuals can find a personal connection to our needy population working through local agencies and service providers.”

In addition to two signs at Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive, the city installed signs at the following intersections: North Guadalupe Street and Paseo de Peralta; Paseo de Peralta and St. Francis; St. Francis and Cordova Road (two signs); Cerrillos and Rodeo Road; Cerrillos and Zafarano Drive; Cerrillos and Airport Road; and St. Michael’s Drive and Old Pecos Trail.

While the signs installed Tuesday don’t list specific charities, the city said The Life Link, The Food Depot, Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place and St. Elizabeth Shelter and Supportive Housing are among the local organizations helping people in need.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(26) comments

B. Rosen

Homelessness is really just a symptom of much larger problems in our society. Drug addiction, unaffordable housing-rising cost of living, low wages for workers, etc. For the folks who are suffering hunger, the cold, or even drug withdrawal on our streets, I see nothing wrong with trying to alleviate their suffering in anyway you see fit. Pushing folks off the medians won’t solve the problem, nor will unconstitutional bans on panhandling, The vast majority of the homeless folks I have interacted with here in Santa Fe are not violent nor aggressive, they have simply fallen on very hard times. I plan on continuing to support them as best I can until we can find solutions for the larger problems of which they are the most visible victims.

Richard Reinders

If you want a Seattle or a San Francisco keep giving to the panhandlers, we will create a reputation and they will flock to Santa Fe just like they have been, none of these people on the corners are locals, they came because we don't do any enforcement and all the people that created the problems in San Francisco moved here to escape there good intentions.

John Onstad

The SFNewmexican article mentions the following charities:

The Life Link

The Food Depot

Interfaith Community Shelter

Supportive Housing

How about the Salvation Army? World-wide statistics:

14,528 facilities

112,203 employees

234,061 prisoners visited

59 hospitals

1,212,181 volunteers

Why doesn't the SFNewmexican mention the Salvation Army?

Because they're ill-informed or have an anti-Christian bias. I think it's the latter.

John Onstad

Jeff Hayduke

The Salvation Army may be "among the local organizations helping people in need" but simply wasn't mentioned by name by the city. As a government entity the City of Santa Fe should not be endorsing a religious organization. Or, maybe it's because the Salvation Army thinks that prayer can solve problems or because they discriminate against homosexuals.

John Puerner

My grandson would like a new iPhone. Should I tell him to make an ‘I’m homeless sign” then go beg at a traffic light? Just asking....

Andrew Lucero

Sadly, panhandling will not cease to be an issue on the medians until someone is killed or terribly injured. And frankly, it’s no longer a question of “IF” this is going to happen, but “WHEN”. There have already been numerous near misses. I am not going to get into all the reasons behind homelessness. Nor do I question the methods or manner in which people choose to give. I also know that panhandling can be viewed as a form of Free Speech. But, panhandling, shilling for votes or even marketing a business by standing on a median should not be allowed by ANYONE! This is not a Free Speech Issue. It’s a PUBLIC SAFETY issue. I assure you, the freedom of speech argument will fall by the wayside the second the City has to pay out on its first multi-million dollar lawsuit because they will be found liable for not enforcing public safety ordinances and allowing this to happen in the first place.

Khal Spencer

If you are worried about public safety, suggest to the Mayor that the city put its efforts into law enforcement against bad driving. Chances are if a panhandler is hit, it will be by someone blowing through a red light or driving up on the median which texting their significant other.

The panhandlers are the canaries in the coal mine, in more ways than one.

Andrew Lucero

Khal, I couldn’t agree more with you about the bad driving. And that the panhandlers are the “canaries in the coal mine, in more ways than one”. But to suggest anything to our Mayor would be an exercise in futility and a complete waste of time.

S. Ulrich

Exactly. Standing around on a 2-ft wide median isn't safe for the person, whether begging, selling papers (ahem!), or gazing off into the distance; and it not safe for drivers. Nothing to do with free speech, or compassion for the homeless, etc. The City needs to get people -- panhanders, political protesters, paper-sellers -- off the medians and stop them from interfering with traffic at corners, too.

Gerald Joyce

Excellent point!

Anne Wharff

I realize that Santa Fe has seen an increase in panhandling and that is creates several concerns. The first one should safety of all concerned. I always worry about people standing on those narrow medians, whether they are advertising a car wash or asking for money/food. What if they fall into traffic? What kind of pile-up will it cause? How many people will be hurt or killed? I think it would be more effective for signs like the one in the picture to say, "Panhandling at this location is dangerous for all concerned. Please discourage it by giving generously at other locations." I know this is too many words for a street sign but it should be something like this.

Linda Dunning

The act of giving ends when that $1 bill leaves your hand. Do not judge the receiver Thats not your job.....but God’s

John Puerner

You never know where the money you give on the street is going to...drugs, alcohol, handlers... It's enabling the problem. Give to the numerous shelters who are in better positions to provide services.

Khal Spencer

Exactly how I feel about my tax dollars.

Steve Spraitz

Perhaps the police will cite drivers for impeding the flow of traffic, and run warrant checks on the parties involved .

Jim Terr

My sentiments exactly:

“I will give to panhandlers and to charity,” Elaine Fattah wrote. “Don’t tell me where to give!”

Joseph Gonzales echoed a similar sentiment.

“I will continue to give change, hot dogs and burritos, too,” Gonzales wrote. “I seem to get it back in a roundabout way big time. Lord forbid you or anyone you love be in a similar situation one day. It is easier to be nice.”

Richard Reinders

There is a public safety ordinance and it isn't safe standing on corners jumping in an out of traffic, Scottsdale has the same signs and it works. Give to Pete's place and other places that house and feed them. The panhandlers are pro's they dress better and have better phones then I do you will get more for your donations at charities.

Rob Morlino

If I was visiting this city, these signs would put me off more than the presence of panhandlers.

Lisa Adkins

Our local non-profits do amazing work and can stretch dollars for resources in ways an individual can not. I see nothing wrong with these signs.

S. Ulrich

Probably best to stay home then.

Daniel Werwath

"we're not doing enough to combat homelessness, and you shouldn't either!" I guess signs are cheeper than paying for housing and services for the homeless.

A. Lace

Supporting local charities is fine but there are things that local charities can't or won't provide for people in need (e.g. toilet paper). If you don't want to give money to people who panhandle, don't. If you want to support people in need, start by not assuming you know better than they do what those needs are. I will continue giving money to people on the margins and not to The Life Link and their multi-million dollar annual budget.

Michael DeBernardi

While I appreciate your point of view about making assumptions on what people need, I was surprised to read your comment about The Life Link’s budget. We are a non-profit agency providing housing support, mental health and substance abuse services, as well as human trafficking aftercare to some of the most marginalized people in our city. Every cent of our budget is accounted for, our staff are underpaid and stretched thin, and we continually have to work proactively to fundraise so that we can sustain our services and provide a safety net for the most critically in-need folks in our community. It is our honor to do this work, and if you want to see details of our budget, it is available.

A. Lace

No criticism intended, Dr. DeBernardi. My point was that it's far easier for The Life Link to find the funding it needs to do their work (very valuable work) compared to the ease in which people living in extreme poverty to find the funds for their needs.

Rick Lohmann

Re., what A. Lace writes about toilet paper: one of the household items my fellow Food Depot volunteers and I sort every single week is toilet paper. It gets to other local charities.

Khal Spencer

But is the city insinuating that there is an ordinance banning panhandling?

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