Program aims to cut panhandling, help homeless

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 15, 2013 

Nonprofits and business owners rolled out a program in May to curb panhandlers in Merced, and organizers want to ramp up awareness about the plan.

"When someone sees a homeless person, oftentimes they feel guilty, so they give them a dollar," said Bruce Metcalf, the executive director of Merced Rescue Mission. "Well, we want them to help people by giving to their favorite charity."

Metcalf said handing a dollar bill or spare change to a panhandler is a bad idea. That money adds up for panhandlers, who may inflate their level of need or use the money for drugs or alcohol.

So, a committee of nonprofit representatives and business owners developed a card they would like the people of Merced to hand out rather than that buck.

"There are people who really need help," Metcalf said. "If they really need help, this card tells where to get free meals, (and) on the other side tells where they can get free shelter."

About 10,000 cards in Merced are in people's hands. The business card-sized pieces of paper bear the slogans "Not a handout" and "A hand up," and include times and places where free shelter and food are available.

Carry 10 cards

Metcalf said he would like every resident of Merced to carry 10 cards in his or her car, wallet or purse. The idea, he said, is to get card carriers to direct panhandlers toward services that could improve their lives.

"The real education and training is for the people carrying the cards, not who you're going to give them to," he said.

Metcalf said he's making the rounds to put posters, with similar information as the cards, up in stores.

The facilities listed on the cards and posters offer a slew of services not included on the card, including showers and free clothes.

Lorenzi Land Investments owner E.J. Almo Lorenzi said panhandlers outside businesses are a nuisance.

"They're in parks; they're in driveways," Lorenzi said. "They're all over Merced."

Lorenzi, a member of the committee of businesses and nonprofits, said the cards are a good start at trying to dissuade panhandling.

The next part of the plan to shrink the number of panhandlers in town but aid the homeless, he said, is to fund and build a 24-hour facility for people who are in need of shelter.

Lorenzi said the committee will begin a campaign to get 300 businesses, groups or individuals to commit to pay $100 a month for two years to bring the facility to fruition.

"That will be enough for us to be able to build — and to buy land — a home for the homeless," Lorenzi said.

The cards are available at the Merced County Rescue Mission office, 1921 Canal St. To request cards and posters, call Metcalf at (209) 480-3899 or director of marketing Phil Schmauss at (209) 658-9558.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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