Clarksville Hopes Program Will Reduce Panhandlers In City

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - In a growing city, you are likely to see more people on streets asking for help, and in Clarksville, city leaders are getting ready to launch a new program to hopefully curb panhandling and tackle a bigger homelessness issue.

The campaign -- "Real Change, Not Spare Change" -- is set to launch by the end of July according to the office of Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan.

Communication Director Richard Stevens with the mayor's office said in the last six months, Clarksville officials have received complaints about an increased presence of panhandlers on public rights of way.

Citizens said panhandlers congregate around highway exits and at intersections and often leave trash and debris creating a negative image of the community.

"People have a right to stand in the street and express themselves, hold up a sign that says 'I'm hungry, give me money' that's not illegal," said Stevens.

Stevens did acknowledge panhandlers walking through traffic is against a public safety city ordinance.

In response to the growing number of panhandlers, the city is working to build a coalition of law enforcement, governments, social service agencies, and church groups that will also provide services to homeless individuals and families.

The coalition will encourage residents to contribute to agencies that provide food for people in need and to agencies whose mission is to provide services to the homeless rather than to panhandlers on the streets.

"We think that's a better way for people to invest in solving this problem than just handing money over to people who don't know what their level of need really is," Stevens said.

In the long-run the coalition hopes to weed out the fakes and make the city a safer place.

The Real Change campaign is being designed by the City's Office of Housing and Community Development with the help of the local United Way and member agencies.

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