A new program just rolled out in Manatee County to thwart panhandling, while actually helping the sincerely downtrodden get the services they need. And it involves a little card.
Backed by The Bradenton Police Department, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Turning Points and other social service agencies, the little card reads, “Call this number for help ... 211” and can be handed out by the public to those asking for a handout.
The card also is good for a free meal at Our Daily Bread from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. daily.
“We have given the cards to officers to pass out,” Bradenton Police Captain William Fowler said.
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If the card recipient does call 211, they will reach 211 of Manasota, the social service hotline for Manatee and Sarasota, which will direct them to services they may need, said Adell Erozer, executive director of Turning Points, Manatee’s one-stop center for the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless.
“This is a new project we have come up with to try and address the problem of panhandling,” Erozer said from Turning Points, 701 17th Ave. W., Bradenton. “Panhandling is something that has been a problem in Manatee County on and off for years. As we have seen it increasing lately, a group of people got together to decide, ‘How can we address this issue?’ ”
Their idea: Encourage the public and the needy that spare change will actually make the biggest difference in the hands of the agencies that serve the downtrodden rather than the hands of the panhandlers.
While some panhandlers might use the card as it is intended, many will be frustrated by it, which is partly why it was created, Erozer said.
“Maybe? Probably not,” Erozer replied when asked if panhandlers will actually call 211. “Those who are really interested in changing their lives are probably going to seek out the services beforehand. But what happens, if you don’t give spare change to panhandlers, if they are not getting anything, they either move on because it is not worth their time or they may make a decision that, ‘Wow, I’m not able to get any money panhandling anymore. Maybe I should make a decision about what else I can do.’ ”
Bradenton Herald Publisher Bob Turner said he came up with the idea of “the 211 card” and bounced it off Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube and Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan who considered it a positive step. They then reached out to other local social service agencies and media leaders, including the Salvation Army and Bright House Networks.
The Herald will include an insert Sunday with copies of the 211 card.
“We need to convince people that while it may make you feel good to give someone a handout, it really is hurting them rather than helping,” Turner said. “Homeless need to find services and help. The 211 card idea is a way to give them direction to that help. If someone continues to get handouts, they may never seek the real help that can make a real change in their lives.”