Responding to escalating complaints about downtown panhandlers, the City Council formally adopted a plan to encourage “alternative giving” by members of the public, the proceeds of which would be earmarked for programs helping the homeless. City Hall will offer counter-top donation receptacles to be placed in various storefronts. At the same time, the city will launch a low-budget PR blitz to alert downtown shoppers not to give to panhandlers directly, but to these boxes instead. Ultimately, the plan is to install alternative giving boxes on State Street, but such approval from the city’s design review boards could take considerable time. Many businesspeople have been far more interested in tougher enforcement of enhanced anti-panhandling laws, but the council linked such enforcement efforts to the adoption of an alternative giving program. In the meantime, the Downtown Organization has ponied up half the salary required to bring former patrol officer Bob Casey out of retirement to pound the pavement. Likewise, many homeless advocates and liberal clergy lobbied the council to find new detox beds in exchange for their support. They argued it would be cruel to reduce the panhandling income people use to self-medicate without providing supplemental detox facilities. As many as six additional beds in Santa Maria have been made available under the terms of the jerry-rigged, inter-agency agreement just worked out. City administrators estimate it will cost $75,000 to get the program up and running.


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