Local Catholic church asks members to stop supporting panhandlers

Posted at 4:26 PM, Sep 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-19 19:20:29-04

A Milwaukee church is asking its parishioners to stop supporting panhandlers after an increase in incidents at the church.

The message was printed in the September 17th bulletin at Church of the Gesu, located on Wisconsin Avenue on Marquette University's campus.

In the message, the church says they've seen an increase in panhandlers disrupting mass or prayer by coming inside to ask for money. Instead the church recommends pointing panhandlers to resource cards available at the church with contact information for a variety of local organizations.

Students and frequent visitors to Marquette's campus say they often encounter panhandlers.

"I definitely get it, you know, it's hard," said Christian Allen, a sophomore at Marquette. "I usually don't give them money, give them food if I have some."

Tameco Martin says she walks a lot in the downtown area and sometimes will get approached up to six times a day.

"I don't have a lot of money so sometimes if I gotta pass, I tell them I gotta pass on it," she said.

The message in the church bulletin went on to say, "research shows these 'donations' rarely, if ever, go toward the donor’s intended purpose, no matter how convincing the story, and will encourage the few people who panhandle at Gesu to be more aggressive and disruptive in the future."

"Milwaukeeans as a whole are extraordinarily compassionate individuals," said Beth Weirick, the CEO of the Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District #21. They just launched a new campaign to help with chronic homelessness that involves gold key parking meters.

The meters can be found in seven downtown locations. While Weirick says the campaign is not anti-panhandling, she says it gives citizens another option to help.

"For individuals who really do need assistance with housing or maybe some guidance or from a rehabilitative perspective, this gives some people an option for that," she said.

Money placed in the meters or donated online will go toward funding an emergency outreach coordinator, emergency move-in kits and a long term plan to provide housing to the homeless.

The City of Milwaukee also has a Keep the Change initiative, that encourages people to donate to various community organizations or charities, rather than give money to panhandlers.

"There's a balance between being compassionate, being kind, providing quality of life for all and also acknowledge unlawful, criminal behavior is not going to be tolerated in the public right of way," said Weirick.

Panhandling on its own is not illegal. However aggressive panhandling like following someone and demanding money is illegal. The city banned panhandling on medians last year, saying it's a safety issue.

The full message from the church is below:

Nearly every day Gesu Parishioners and guests encounter people, often homeless or poor, asking for money...panhandling. It is uncomfortable for most of us to be approached by someone who is panhandling. This challenges us as Christians to study, pray, and act on the deeper issues that lead to poverty and homelessness. We have recently noticed an increase in panhandlers asking for money inside the church, often disrupting Mass, private prayer or fellowship, and at the entrances to the church obstructing people trying to enter or exit the building. While interactions are often peaceful, some instances have turned confrontational, putting individuals at risk. Please do not give panhandlers money. Research shows these “donations” rarely, if ever, go toward the donor’s intended purpose, no matter how convincing the story, and will encourage the few people who panhandle at Gesu to be more aggressive and disruptive in the future. Research also suggests panhandling will be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, once panhandlers are not rewarded for their actions. While we desire to preserve Gesu as a sacred place for prayer and worship for all people, as a parish, we also strongly believe in supporting people who are poor through established parish and community services. A list of local services is provided on the “Blue Cards” available at the main entrances of the church. Feel free to direct panhandlers to the Blue Cards. If you are unfamiliar with the Blue Cards, ask an usher to direct you to their location. We also encourage you to pray for and support Gesu Parish and any of these institutions and programs which provide services to those who are poor and homeless in our midst.