Why is a San Antonio councilman putting up anti-panhandling signs?

SAN ANTONIO – The signs have popped up at several busy intersections along Interstate 10, warning drivers to avoid rolling down their windows and opening up their wallets.

“Panhandling. It’s OK to say NO,” state the signs on Wurzbach Road, Huebner Road, De Zavala Road, and La Cantera Parkway. The signs feature a crossed-out image of money changing hands over a plea to donate to local charities instead.

“Panhandling is out of control. That’s what I keep hearing from constituents,” said the man behind the signs, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who is also running for mayor.

Soliciting money is legal in San Antonio, though current city laws prohibit it in certain spots, including within 50 feet of marked crosswalks.

Pelaez believes the panhandled money “ends up in the pockets of drug dealers for the most part.”

“They tell us, ‘I am – I’m an addict.’ They’re really frank about it. Right. ‘And this corner provides me with what I need,’ which is money (to) pay for that addiction,” Pelaez said.

Palaez also pointed to safety concerns about panhandlers walking in traffic and homeless encampments being near children. Primarily, though, he focused on what he painted as a “direct line that can be drawn from rolling your window down and giving to a panhandler all the way up to the wars in Juarez and Matamoros.”

“I want to make sure that those (donated) dollars are stretched and used in a way that really helps, as opposed to, making the driver feel good at that one moment,” he said.

The Northwest Side councilman spent $6,000 on the signs out of the $550,000 Neighborhood Access and Mobility Program (NAMP) fund that each council district has for tackling infrastructure concerns.

Though they’re only installed around four different District 8 intersections, Pelaez wants to see the signs spread to panhandling hot spots all around the city.

San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries President & CEO Nikisha Baker said in a statement that her group “supports efforts to redirect the compassion of our community away from panhandling and towards local homeless service providers.”

Haven For Hope President & CEO Kim Jefferies said she’d prefer the signs be reworked if they’re going to start popping up in other spots.

“So that it’s really about, you know, getting this individual that you’re seeing access to service,” Jefferies said. “So what can I do immediately in this moment? I can call 311 and get them to call the street outreach worker that works that specific city council district to go out and help support this individual.”

This is not the first time Councilman Palaez has encouraged drivers to refrain from handing out cash to panhandlers.

In 2019, he spearheaded the city’s “Change the Way We Give” campaign, which allows donors to submit money through an online application rather than donating directly on the streets.

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