DELAND, Fla. – It’s a new answer to an old problem in the city of DeLand: Ending panhandling at the most dangerous intersections but at the same time addressing the problem of homelessness.
Panhandling is a way of life for some who are homeless, but city of DeLand spokesman Chris Graham said it has led to accidents and injuries, not just for the homeless, but also for drivers who are just trying to help.
“When you think about it, a Girl Scout is panhandling,” Graham said. “It’s just not safe to do it at these intersections.”
So the city is putting up signs—not the usual reminders that panhandling is illegal, but about how to get results together.
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“These laws have been on the books for 20 years,” Graham said. “We strengthened those laws, but it’s something we’re still dealing with. Because people are making money out here, because there are some good-intentioned residents giving to them. But we just want to offer them a better way to do that.”
The special signs will go up at the intersections, with the Florida Department of Transportation’s approval. And they’ll be scattered across shopping centers on store windows directing drivers to donate indirectly to the homeless. The signs will encourage drivers, or anyone, to donate to the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia.
The center is an all-inclusive shelter in DeLand that cares for some 200 people at any given time.
It has one of the largest food pantries in Central Florida and serves dinner every night. Seventy bags of canned good are handed out to the hungry every day. The center also has beds, washers, dryers, even an office with computers.
Savannah-Jane Griffin, CEO of the Neighborhood Center, said the shelter is at capacity.
“We’re about three blocks wide and we house 200 individuals through various housing programs,” Griffin said. “We had a large increase in food distribution last year and we’re seeing a rise this year as well. I think it’s due to hurricanes we’ve had, the impact of the COVID pandemic and the cost of living is going up.”
Hear more from Savannah-Jane Griffin, CEO of the Neighborhood Center:
Griffin knows her shelter, or any shelter, is so much safer and does so much more than some spare change could ever do.
“We’ve been in conversations (with DeLand) as the need arises locally,” Griffin said. “We’re seeing more people. A lot of our individuals are panhandling or you see them out in our downtown area, and so a lot of the community members are concerned about that. So we were strategizing with the city on a way to really fund individuals and educate individuals on the resources in place for DeLand in West Volusia.”
Graham said giving to the center instead of panhandlers is a win-win.
“Basically, we’re giving people an alternative who really want to give to people,” Graham said. “We want them to give to the homeless center because they know where that money is going to be going. When you give to a panhandler you have no control over where that money is going to go.”
The signs will have large QR codes that people can scan that will take them directly to the donation site.
“Communities across Central Florida, DeLand especially, we all deal with homeless issues, and a lot of people complain about it,” Graham said. “I think it’s going to take the community working together to solve the issue.”
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