SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — For more than a month, new signs have been discouraging Sioux Falls drivers from giving money to panhandlers.
The new signs put up at a few intersections in September encourage drivers not to give money but rather donate to local charities. The signs also grabbed the attention of Taneeza Islam, a candidate for mayor and the executive director of South Dakota Voices for Peace.
In a series of tweets, Islam shared a story of helping a “young woman with a baby in her arms holding a sign saying ‘help for food.’” Islam explained how this woman was kicked out of her house by her husband and she had no one in the community to go to. Islam says she gave the women “cash for a taxi to the Children’s Inn and an Applebee’s gift card.”
Islam said she cried when she wondered if she would be the woman in need. She said her son, who was with her, always says “Mom, we have to help” when the two see anyone holding a sign.
“This is the community I will build as your Mayor, where we care for one another, not shame those who want to help or need help,” Islam tweeted from her campaign account.
“Shaming is not the way this city needs to go,” Islam told KELOLAND News on Monday. “To post a sign to shame those for something that’s not even illegal, doesn’t really get to the root causes of this symptom, which is panhandling.”
Islam called for more attention to be given to the “root causes” of panhandling, which she called “houselessness, homelessness, food insecurity and the lack of substance abuse treatment programs that are accessible for everyone that needs it.”
The issue of panhandling has grown in Sioux Falls and the Sioux Falls Police Department has held multiple briefings about it, shared social media postings and press releases about it. The specific signs discouraging panhandling were put up in September and city leaders told KELOLAND News they plan to keep evaluating the impact of the signs before they add more across town.
SFPD spokesman Sam Clemens said there may be a few examples of “somebody that’s in need and gets some benefit from that” like the Islam’s panhandling example. But Clemens stressed from a law enforcement standpoint, people panhandling are more often looking “to continue their addiction, primarily alcohol.”
“There are a lot of resources. There are a lot of different places in Sioux Falls that are providing support to people in need,” Clemens said. “That’s what we’re encouraging — people to donate to those organizations. You know that the money you’re donating is going to support that and not feed someone’s addiction.”
Islam, an immigration lawyer, agreed there’s “great” organizations and nonprofits working to tackle some of the problems causing panhandling. But she stressed panhandling and giving money to people who are asking are legal actions. She called on people to try and have more conversations with the people asking for money.
“Sometimes cash is the way to help because there’s no other way to get assistance immediately in our city,” Islam said. “There’s always a reason. What would need to be happening in your life to stand on a corner with a sign asking for help?”
Clemens said when a person gives money to a local charity or nonprofit, they can know their money is “going to support that and not feed someone’s addiction.” He added the signs are also aimed to keep people who are panhandling out of the streets.
“The signs are up as just a reminder, there’s a better place to give your money,” Clemens said. “You see somebody on the side of the road and they may have a sign and they may be looking for money, you don’t know what they’re going to do with that money.”
One panhandler told KELOLAND News in April he could make $100 or $125 “on a good day.”
But Islam still questions the panhandling signs. She said it’s an example of city officials “not engaging with the community to understand root causes of the problems we see.”
“The purpose of the sign is unclear,” Islam said. “To discourage people to give to those looking for assistance but instead give to charities doesn’t solve any problems.”
Mayor Paul TenHaken supported the SFPD’s actions in addressing panhandling. He said from a community standpoint “the best thing that we can do to address panhandling is to not support it with our pocketbooks.”
“On the surface some may feel giving out money is the right approach, but these signs serve as a reminder that giving money to panhandlers has the tendency to exacerbate the problem instead of contributing to a solution,” TenHaken said in an emailed statement.
“We have many great resources across our community to help our vulnerable population. I know that we have a generous community full of people who want to help, and I encourage residents to give to the nonprofit organizations in our community, which ultimately will better address the needs of our vulnerable population in Sioux Falls,” TenHaken said.
Islam announced she was running for the position of Mayor of Sioux Falls earlier this month. TenHaken announced he’ll seek re-election in September.
The city election is set for April 12.