Edmontonians urged not to give to panhandlers

The City of Edmonton is asking residents to give money to support agencies instead of panhandlers.

The City of Edmonton is asking residents to give money to support agencies instead of  panhandlers.

The second annual Have a Heart–Give Smart public education campaign aims to raise public awareness and educate Edmontonians about how best to help people who panhandle.

Terri Roy Brenneis, manager of the program, said many people give change when asked by panhandlers, but that's not always the most helpful.

"The best way to help is to actually help the agencies who can help people address the root causes of issues like panhandling, so to help people who may have addictions or may lack housing or employment."

Brenneis said all panhandlers are not necessarily homeless, but often share the same issues as people who are homeless — addictions, mental health issues, disabilities, poverty, low levels of education and unemployment. The city, she said, aims to address the root causes of panhandling.

Throughout the summer, staff members will be travelling throughout the city in the Have a Heart–Give Smartcar, accepting donations and handing out information.

Brenneis said the donations will go to social agencies, but the main aim is education.

"Through this campaign, we're letting people know that it's great to want to help people, and that there's a way to truly help people in need," she said.

"And that's by supporting local agencies that are right there, assisting people with food, clothing and shelter."

Brenneis said city employees reached out to more than 12,000 Edmontonians during the first campaign in 2010 and raised $1,100 in donations.