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Don't Give to Panhandlers, Give to Charities, New Loop Campaign Advises

 Chicago Loop Alliance Street Team Ambassador Edmund Garcia speaks with a homeless man Downtown.
Chicago Loop Alliance Street Team Ambassador Edmund Garcia speaks with a homeless man Downtown.
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James John Jetel for Chicago Loop Alliance

THE LOOP — A Downtown business group has launched a website where people can donate their spare change to a local charity instead of giving to panhandlers. 

The Chicago Loop Alliance on Thursday launched "Change for the Better," where Chicagoans and others can donate to one of 14 local non-profits that offer shelter and other services to the poor and homeless. The website raised $105 as of Friday morning, and Loop Alliance representatives will be handing out pamphlets on the new campaign to the public starting Friday Downtown. 

The idea is to encourage the long-term support of services for the homeless in lieu of short-term giving to individuals on the street, the latter of which often enables bad habits, Chicago Loop Alliance President Michael Edwards said.

His organization, which provides services on State Street from Wacker Drive to Congress Parkway, hopes the campaign will result in fewer Downtown panhandlers and a more hospitable environment for passersby.

"People continue to give to panhandlers on the street and that's an inefficient way for those people to get the services they need," Edwards said. "This is a way for people to set aside potential guilt and donate to a place where those services can be offered."

Website visitors can choose to donate to an individual charity or the whole campaign. The organizations that will benefit include The Chicago Help Initiative in River North, Youth Outreach Services on the West Side, and StreetWise, though Edwards said any interested social services agency is welcome to join.

Edwards says he hopes the website and outreach effort will make it easier on potential donors who otherwise might not know these organizations exist. 

Chicago Shares, another non-profit that for decades has allowed donors to buy and give out food vouchers redeemable at Downtown grocery stores, has also worked on developing an alternative to giving money on the street. Chicago Shares, which partners with many local churches, sells between $40,000 and $50,000 in food vouchers annually, according to vice president Ron Polaniecki. 

"For those people who would like to consider helping somebody, we think this makes it easier, safer and more convenient," he said.

The donation drive arrives about two years after the Loop Alliance launched its Street Team Ambassadors, a group that patrols Loop streets and identifies panhandlers that are truly in need.

The Change for the Better campaign also aims to teach residents and visitors the difference between legal panhandling and illegal "aggressive" tactics when traversing Downtown — the latter is illegal and warrants police intervention.

An excerpt on panhandling from the Change for the Better pamphlet [Courtesy of Chicago Loop Alliance]

Gov. Bruce Rauner recently pivoted on his decision to cut $26 million in state social service and public health grants, but with Moody's downgrading the city's credit rating to junk status, the spectre of future service cuts will continue to loom, Edwards believes.

"This seems more timely than ever," he said.

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