The cardboard scrawlings are visible at nearly every major intersection or freeway off-ramp in the county. Panhandlers broadcast their need for money, gas, food or work, and hope that passersby respond with spare change or a meal. While it’s instinctual to want to help the less fortunate, the impact of our assistance isn’t always what we intend.
The LEAD San Diego IMPACT class recently spent a day exploring the influence the downtown core has on our entire region. Part of the discussion included challenges surrounding downtown’s homeless population, such as panhandling.
Kris Michell, president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, shared that whether it stems from a need to be more socially responsible or because it has a direct impact on neighborhood businesses, the downtown community must work to decrease homelessness.
The organization currently spearheads a number of homeless programs, which include a full-time homeless outreach coordinator and a housing model that has given 374 individuals a place to call home. But Michell cautioned that well-intentioned downtown residents and workers who support panhandling might undermine programs like these that are focused on long-term solutions rather than a quick fix.
By giving funds to established local organizations that deal with homelessness on a daily basis, your contribution could support case management services, temporary housing or medical care, rather than support complacency or an addiction, which approximately 80 percent of the homeless population struggles with. In order to create lasting change and help these folks get off the streets, we need to change our thinking about what “help” really means for this population.
Following the discussion, it occurred to me that this is what LEAD San Diego’s IMPACT program is all about – understanding the ripple effects of our actions.
LEAD San Diego’s IMPACT program educates us, helping us to understand our region’s issues and influences – whether they are rooted in our military community, arts and culture scene, social issues or our local economy – so we can grasp the true outcome of our actions (intended or not), help solve issues and make decisions that have a positive impact on our region.
As Greek philosopher Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
A big thanks to LEAD San Diego for getting our wheels turning.