DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s the time of year when your heart wants to give to those in need.
But the City of Dallas says don’t do it when it comes to panhandlers on street corners.
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Instead, a new program is underway to address a problem that the city and homeless advocates say has become worse than ever.
Panhandlers are a safety concern that the City of Dallas simply has not been able to stop.
But a new idea and plan has a lot of people encouraged.
They risk jail and fines for spare change or a few bucks from passing drivers.
Panhandling is a crime in many parts of Dallas, but even judges don’t enjoy enforcing the law.
“Sometimes you’re heartbroken and sometimes you want to do what you can but you still have laws in place that you want to follow,” said administrative court Judge Preston Robinson.
That’s why Robinson is excited about the city’s new Panhandling Deflection Program that started during the holidays.
City marshals and crisis intervention case workers, instead of police officers, will take over enforcement and be ready to give panhandlers an option of help with housing and even drug treatment rather than the revolving door of jail.
Reverend Earl Fitzsimmons is a recovered addict who founded the organization Bring The Light and he likes the idea as well.
“They are focusing with teams that their goal is to get people off the street, get them the mental health they need, get in the housing they need, and I think that’s a good thing to happen,” he said.
His organization offers food and hygiene products to the city’s homeless.
The pastor says the problem is only getting worse.
“Dallas as well as other major cities are seeing a homeless crisis that they’ve never seen before probably since the Great Depression,” Fitzsimmons said.
Officials say the idea of decriminalizing homelessness has been tried before in Dallas, but not in a way that utilizes so many city resources to get people help.
And leaders hope that will make a difference.