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Arlington launches campaign to curb panhandling at major intersections. More plans are in the works.

A white, black and blue sign is posted on a pole in the intersection of Division and Collins streets. The sign holds Arlington's star logo and says "contribute to the solution," "it's OK to say no to panhandlers" and the link
Kailey Broussard
Panhandling signs are in three intersections of Arlington as part of a pilot project.

A handful of anti-panhandling signs have gone up around busy Arlington intersections thanks to a city pilot program.

Blue, black and white signs tell motorists to "Contribute to the solution" by donating tocity nonprofit partners that provide emergency shelter, rental housing or eviction prevention resources.

Below the link, the sign reads, "It's OK to say no to panhandlers."

The signs are located at Interstate 20 and Bowen Road; Division and Collins streets; and Interstate 30 and Collins Street. These are among the first visible steps of several planned in the next couple of years.

City staff also plan to redesign roadways at two intersections—Randol Mill Road and Green Oaks Boulevard as well as Matlock and Sublett roads—that will make it difficult for pedestrians to enter the road to accept donations.

Staff is also designing a public education campaign around the claim that not all panhandlers are homeless.

"There's no silver bullet," said Jennifer Wichmann, deputy city manager, but city staff will monitor the programs and bring initial results back to council in six months.

Wichmann said the city meets with leaders from the organization listed on the landing page to discuss how to help the people they serve. She said she believes homelessness as an issue gets conflated with panhandling, and that panhandlers benefit off that belief.

"We work to make sure that they have resources that are available, but then they also understand that staying in an encampment or panhandling or whatever the solution is, is not an OK solution," Wichmann said.

Hannah Lebovits, an assistant public affairs and planning professor at UT Arlington, said she's skeptical about claims from law enforcement about panhandling. The information police gather from people on the streets is normally anecdotal, and people who give information may not necessarily tell the truth out of distrust of law enforcement.

"For as many times as I've heard that narrative, I've heard directly from people who panhandle saying, 'Yes, I live in a tent. Yes, I don't have stable housing,'" she said.

Panhandling sign effectiveness

Cities nationwide have adopted panhandling mitigation signage campaigns, though they generally have not been successful on their own, Lebovits said.

"Actually, getting folks to move from standing on a street corner and individuals actually asking for help to sort of a more structural shift in their lives involves trust," Lebovits said.

That trust has generally been eroded by historic treatment of homeless and panhandlers by police and government agencies, she said.

"Unfortunately, in the many, many years prior to this, that trust has not been built and was actually destroyed by these panhandling bans. So if I went out to panhandle and immediately a cop would come out and try to arrest me, I'm not going to trust the city when somebody comes out and says, 'I wanna help you.'"

Lebovits is one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Dallas and Police Chief Eddie Garcia over an ordinance that carries a fine up to $500 to people who stand on a median or in the middle of the road.

In Arlington, an ordinance outlaws panhandlers from stepping into streets or sending children into the street to accept donations. As part of the pilot, Arlington police have set up traffic cameras at nine intersections which are known to be frequent panhandling spots.

City staff and Arlington police have said during afternoon work sessions that the number of panhandlers has fluctuated because people in Arlington are inclined to give.

United States Supreme Court rulings have upheld that panhandling is a form of expression protected under the First Amendment, meaning cities cannot outright ban the activity but can impose rules for public safety.

Raul Gonzalez, District 2 city council member, said he suggested the signs after seeing some while traveling out of town. While he said the signs are not a solution, it's a chance to address an issue that he receives calls about every day.

"People want you to do something. Citizens are like, 'What's the city going to do?' ... People aren't caring about other people. They just want you to put everybody on a bus and get them out of here and you can't do that," he said.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

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Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.