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Better ways to help

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

It is true that panhandling is an option for the poor and the homeless; however, I think few will disagree with me when I say that it is the very worst option. It is dangerous for the panhandler and the benefits are short-lived and unsustainable. The better options involve getting the person in need the kind of help that will lead them to a better tomorrow, not just let them scrape through today.

Panhandling may meet a person’s immediate need for cash, but it is unlikely that the change from your pocket will improve that individual’s life in any substantial way. The only way to be confident that the help you give will lead to even more help is to make sure that the person is connected to a full array of social services. Residents of a world-class city like Chicago should not have to beg in the streets. Real help is out there if we just know where to look.

Fast & Free referral
Call 311: The City of Chicago staffs the toll free 311 information line. By calling 311, you can get information on a wide range of city services, including assistance for the homeless and those in non-life-threatening crisis, (always call 911 if you believe that a person is in need of emergency medical or police assistance). A 311 operator can dispatch a city homeless service team who can connect the person in need to immediate food, clothing, and shelter. Once connected, the person in need will have access to in-depth case management, which can help the individual regain true stability.

Hospitals & Police Stations
You can direct a person in need to the closest hospital or police station so that they can be connected to social services. Many people are not aware, but it is a long-standing policy in Chicago for hospitals and police stations to assist the homeless and those needing food and shelter. If a person goes to a hospital emergency room or city police station and says they need food or shelter, the staff will call a city homeless service team to respond to the location and make sure that the person gets the right help.

Smart Phones & the Internet
Thanks to modern technology, the answers we need are often right at our finger tips. Most smart phones will provide a GPS location map for the internet searches you conduct. So, if you put in keywords like “shelter,” “soup Kitchen,” or “food pantry,” etc., you will more than likely get a list of agencies matching that description in your immediate area. Sometimes the help a person needs is only a block away, but they – and those concerned for them – are unaware of it.

By Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either tipline@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 22).

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