Business
8:39 am
Thu June 14, 2012

New campaign asks Ann Arbor visitors to stop giving money to panhandlers

New posters in downtown Ann Arbor businesses will ask visitors to stop giving money to panhandlers.  The effort by the mayor's office and businesses asks people to give money to local resources for the homeless instead. 

The posters say panhandlers often use the money to buy drugs and alcohol.  This concerns some local homeless residents.  They say this isn't always the case.  

Mama Jude is a thin, middle-aged homeless woman, who says she's been part of the Ann Arbor scene for 21 years.  She does not panhandle and acknowledges that alcohol and drugs are important problems.  She is concerned, though, that the posters may cause people to judge the homeless, like a young couple she knows....

"They're not bad kids...they don't look [like] they're on heavy drugs, they didn't look they were drunk, they didn't seem belligerent.  I actually had a decent conversation with them...so you know I felt human for a moment [laugh]."

"John" (did not want to give last name) was asking for money on Main street and says he has HIV, diabetes and a mental health condition.  He says county resources are  helpful, but people with mental illness like himself may find it difficult to stay in the homeless shelters.

"For those who are kicked out of the shelter, [they] will not be able to participate and be well taken care of because of that fact."

Local businesses say they don't want to "cast a stone", but rather educate the public about useful county resources.

Mayor John Hieftje and local business leaders have said panhandling has been less of an issue recently than in years past.

- Nishant Sekaran, Michigan Radio Newsroom

* Clarification: In a previous version of the story, we did not include "mental illness" as a main health problem for "John."  We have clarified the copy above.