Aggressive panhandlers prompt Philly to offer new option for helping those in need

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 Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Homeless Services, urges Philadelphians to use their phone to the Mayor's Fund to End Homelessness rather than hand cash to panhandlers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Homeless Services, urges Philadelphians to use their phone to the Mayor's Fund to End Homelessness rather than hand cash to panhandlers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Panhandling is on the upswing in Philadelphia, and city officials believe it’s in part a result of the opioid epidemic.

Instead of giving money to a panhandler, people can now text “SHARE” to the number 80077 to donate to the City’s Office of Homeless Services. 

“The funds that we get, we will put directly into real solutions,” said Liz Hersh, office director. “Housing, jobs and services.”

The $5 donation will be added to texter’s phone bill,  and the city will match that contribution by reallocating some money from Hersh’s office.

“It encourages generosity, but discourages panhandling,” said Brian Abernathy, Philadelphia’s deputy managing director.

The texting program is part of a larger campaign, he said. The city will continue to expand day-time services for those down on their luck; increase drug treatment opportunities; and encourage low-barrier employment — such as selling the newspaper One Step Away.

Officials will assess the pilot program by the end of September to see how well it’s working.

panhandlersPedestrians walk past panhandlers on Filbert Street not far from the Reading Terminal Market and the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney said his approach to the issue has changed over his political career.

“You can move people all day long, but if they’re never going to get their issues resolved, or addressed, we’re going to be moving people forever,” he said.

He’s proposing a million more dollars for homeless housing, which he said will translate into around 70 permanent housing units.

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