A man stands at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road in Colesville, MD, with a sign asking for money. Montgomery County officials launched a campaign Sept. 9 to discourage panhandling in the county. Photo credit: Whitney Teal.
The death of Mary Fish, a 52-year-old Beltsville woman fatally hit by a van last May while standing in the middle of a busy Wheaton intersection soliciting money, may have been the last straw for county and police officials frustrated by the safety issues panhandlers present.
Huddled at Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road Monday, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, County Councilman George Levanthal and representatives from groups that advocate with homeless people charged citizens to donate money instead of giving cash to panhandlers.
“Panhandling is not safe and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help them,” said Leventhal, chairman of the council’s health and human services committee. “We all know the feeling. We want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We feel guilty. We all want to help. The question isn’t whether to help—it’s how.”
County officials said panhandlers use the cash to support drug or alcohol addictions and touted a program that they have developed to help vulnerable citizens, called “Give a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.”
Both panhandling and pedestrian safety have been issues that have garnered widespread attention in Montgomery County. Maryland Dels. Anne Kaiser, who represents East Montgomery County, and Aruna Miller, who represents Western Montgomery County, introduced similar bills that eventually fizzled in 2012’s legislative sessions to curtail or completely ban the practice of begging in the streets.
Susan Kirk, executive director of Bethesda Cares, an organization that works with homeless people, said the program will help keep panhandlers out of the streets, improving their safety and that of drivers.
“Montgomery County is a very giving and caring community,” Kirk said. “People respond to assist those they perceive in need. Now together we will work for long term solutions rather than short term fixes.”