Davis wrestles with panhandling problem

DAVIS - The city of Davis is considering ways to help the homeless, while easing issues like panhandling and crime.

But even those close to the problem disagree over whether there are more homeless living in and around the city.

"The amount of calls that city hall gets have gone up 10-fold, I'd say," Davis Chamber of Commerce CEO Kemble Pope said.

But newly elected Davis City Councilmember Robb Davis isn't so sure.

"Is there a spike? I think what we're seeing is some of the new folks coming though this year tend to be clustering in the downtown, doing more panhandling," Davis said.

But everyone seems to agree the panhandling problem is getting worse. Even those who want to see a compassionate approach to the problem, like resident Alan Miller, agree that a few are a risk to public safety.

"Police officers have given me the rap sheet on some of these people and some of them are dangerous criminals," Miller said after a city council meeting Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, the council accepted an update from staff on a working group of stakeholders who want to see changes in how panhandlers are dealt with.

The stakeholders, including the city, want to "educate the community on the importance of giving to programs rather than individuals," and, "to redirect donation funds to local non-profit and faith-based organizations who can better serve the local needs of homeless."

Pope said the money could be used by Davis Community Meals, transitional housing programs, the city's workforce development training program and others.

"No one is going to be out in the street actively discouraging," Pope said. "This is about having a community conversation so people can make their own decision."

Many residents and even visitors to the city like the idea.

"Hospitality would be a lot better than just giving money towards something a little bit less monitored," said Michael Eqquibel, as he headed to get dessert with his girlfriend.

A homeless man said the move would make it harder for them to get money for things they need.

"You can't donate money to a community of homeless and expect people to get it.," said Jesse Whitten, who said he was from Washington state.

The working group of stakeholders plans to bring more detail to the city council in the fall.

"When you bring law enforcement and service providers and downtown business people together, and they're willing to work together, I think that says a lot about the communities capacity to deal with the problem," Davis said. "So I think it's a great start."


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