Boise Launches Pilot Program to Discourage Giving to Panhandlers


A local man who identified himself as Dan panhandles at the State Street Albertsons.
  • Rachel Krause
  • A local man who identified himself as Dan panhandles at the State Street Albertson's.
The City of Boise is discouraging residents from giving money to panhandlers through a new pilot program focused on the Albertson’s grocery store at 16th and State streets. Called Have a Heart Give Smart, the campaign encourages residents to give money to local homeless organizations instead of donating directly to the homeless.

City spokesman Adam Park said the City has noticed an increase in panhandling in Boise, so they “decided to launch this public campaign to show residents that there are more effective ways to give.”

Park said residents should give money to organizations, such as the Boise Rescue Mission, Interfaith Sanctuary or the Allumbaugh House, which “work at dealing with the underlying causes to panhandling.” The Boise Rescue Mission has already announced their support of the campaign.

Brochures have been given out to shoppers and posters have been displayed at the State Street Albertson’s, with the message that most panhandlers are not homeless and most homeless people do not panhandle. Passive panhandling on public property is legal, but the city does have a ban on aggressive panhandling.

By comparing Boise City Police data of the number of panhandlers at the specific location, which Park noted had received numerous complaints from customers, before and after the program’s initiation, and speaking with neighbors and residents, they will judge if there has been any improvements. At that point, Park said it may become a citywide program.

Many residents may not have heard about the program, as there was no formal announcement or press conference. Park said it's because “the City usually doesn’t make public announcements on pilot programs.” Park said a formal announcement will be made if the campaign becomes citywide.

A panhandler who identified himself to Citydesk as Dan, but has also gone by the name Mike, made $7 in three hours Thursday morning at the Albertson’s. Dan, who says he broke his ankle while unemployed, has been panhandling for two and half months to pay for medical bills. Dan prefers the term “signing” or “running a sign” instead of the term “panhandling” which Dan thinks is “someone who is going around from person to person asking them for money.”

Dan has noticed an increase in panhandling in the area, citing “lack of work", but he has not seen any changes in donations since the program was launched two weeks ago.

“The first lady who came by today told me, ‘They said not to give you any money, but here you go anyways,’” Dan said.

Use of the 'Have a Heart' campaign is courtesy of the Seattle Metropolitan Improvement District, where in April, Mayor Mike McGinn vetoed an aggressive panhandling bill. The ordinance would have banned panhandlers from asking for money at ATMS and pay parking stations, as well as intimidating behavior. Those violating the ordinance would pay a $50 fine. However, the bill received opposition from prominent groups, including Real Change News and the American Civil Liberties Union, who said it violated civil liberties and criminalized poverty.

'Have a Heart, Give Smart' campaigns can also be found in Edmonton, Alberta and Ottawa, Ontario.