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Government/Politics

Police Chief McManus Reverses Course On Increased Panhandling Ordinance

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TPR News-File Photo

In a surprising move Wednesday, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus revealed that he is stepping away from his proposal that, if approved by council, would have made it against the law in the city to give anything - from money to blankets - to a panhandler.

The revelation came up at the end of the city council's public safety committee. The item was not scheduled to be discussed. But a question from a council member on where the proposal stood prompted the chief to explain why he's aborting the plan.

"If it's not going to make it out of committee, there's no sense in me spinning my wheels, and we'll focus more on the public awareness campaign," said the chief to the media following the meeting. "[We'll] try to get people to direct their money to those agencies that will actually help the homeless."

McManus explained that he wasn't getting broad support from council members. People in the community also felt that their freedom of speech would be stifled by the ordinance, forcing them to break the law if they wanted to express kindness toward someone by giving them a buck.

"It's not a matter of trying to prevent people from doing acts of charity," McManus said earlier this week at a press conference to unveil a public awareness campaign. "But keep in mind that that act of charity is very likely going to go to buy alcohol or drugs and fuel someone's addiction. That is my concern."

The awareness campaign is still moving forward, said McManus.

It's called Change That Makes A Difference. Police officials say officers will carry a card with an electronic code that can be scanned by smartphones. The code will take people to a link where they can make contributions to organizations that help panhandlers and the homeless.

One of those organizations is Haven For Hope. The center's Laura Calderon said professional panhandlers are after money to feed their addiction.

"There are lots of different studies that show that to one degree or another, when you give money to someone who is panhandling, it very well may go to alcohol or to drugs," she said. "So it's important for people to know that before they give."

Still, people may still feel compelled to give. Ron Brown is the outreach manager at Haven For Hope. He sees the effects of panhandling firsthand and as a pastor, strongly believes that giving a panhandler hurts them more than it helps them.

Giving could be in the form of simply saying, 'Hello,' Brown said.

"Reach out to them and give them the resources they need so that they can start their lives over and get themselves back on track," said Brown. "A good pat on the back, give a dollar here or there, but like the Word says, I'd rather train you to fish so you can keep eating."

Police say the campaign is underway currently. McManus doesn't plan on revisiting the panhandling proposal. The current ordinance prohibits panhandling in front of buildings, ATMs, restaurants and other similar locations.