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Union Rescue Mission Urges 'Real Change, Not Spare Change' With Anti-Panhandling Campaign

A McLin
flickr Creative Commons

A faith-based organization that serves homeless people in Wichita has launched a campaign to combat panhandling.

The Union Rescue Mission’s “real change, not spare change” initiative is urging residents not to hand out money to panhandlers.

Executive director Denny Bender says more often than not, the person asking for money isn’t actually homeless.

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
Union Rescue Mission executive director Denny Bender sits in front of plans for a new multi-unit transitional housing residence being built on the mission's campus in east Wichita.

“Research and our experience has shown us that someone with a cardboard sign appealing to the community for food, any help ... the majority of those individuals are truly being deceptive,” he says.

Bender acknowledges that may sound harsh – one of the billboards in the new campaign reads “Your pity is my payday” – but says a handout doesn’t benefit anyone.

The Wichita Police Department has put out a similar message recently, and in December, the City Council passed ordinances criminalizing panhandling in an effort to curb the practice.

“You know, if you give a dollar to a man on a corner today,” Bender says, “the only thing that guarantees is he’s going to be back there tomorrow looking for another dollar.”

Credit Courtesy Union Rescue Mission
One of the promotional materials the Union Rescue Mission is distributing for its new campaign.

Bender says that dollar could do a lot more good if it’s given to one of Wichita’s several homeless service providers. The Union Rescue Mission provides shelter and meals, as well as addiction recovery services and job training.

“There’s an alternative that has a much higher chance of resulting in changed lives than just indiscriminately giving out money to somebody with a cardboard sign,” he says.

The Union Rescue Mission broke ground this week on a multi-unit residence for men transitioning out of homelessness. The Eagles Wing housing project will be located on the organization’s 6-acre campus in east Wichita.

Bender says the complex is for men who have completed the addiction recovery program at the Union Rescue Mission.

“They eventually move through that life change and are ready to re-engage with society, and it’s a very large crevasse that they have to cross from having everything provided here in the mission to being on their own,” he says.

The building will have room for up to 24 men, who can stay at the residence for up to a year as they prepare to move out on their own.

Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.