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New San Antonio program encourages drivers to give to charity instead of panhandlers

Soon, you'll see signs in northwest San Antonio encouraging drivers to give to charity instead of panhandlers.

To give or not to give? That is the question facing San Antonio drivers when they come to a stop at a traffic light and a panhandler walks by.

According to City Councilman Manny Pelaez, you shouldn’t give to panhandlers begging for money. He says it’s a major problem, especially in his district on the northwest side.

"It has been a problem, year after year, and it has reached an alarming rate," he said. "There is no way we are going to arrest our way out of this problem, because every time we arrest one, we are taking an officer off the streets for one to two hours."

Councilman Pelaez added that panhandling is an issue he hears about all the time.

"This is really more of a homelessness problem, a substance abuse problem, domestic violence problem, a veteran's mental health problem," he said.

Now, the councilman is rolling out a pilot program in his district. He says it will be effective to bring down the problems that come with panhandling. It's a $30,000 fix included in next year's $2.8 billion city budget.

"San Antonio and San Antonians have big hearts," the councilman said.

The program will include signage encouraging drivers to donate money to nonprofits instead of giving money at intersections. The signs will go up at troubled spots like at I-10 and De Zavala.

The language for the signs is still in the works.

"We know that giving to panhandlers feeds addiction," he said. "It feeds opioid addictions, it feeds heroin addiction, methamphetamine. We know that giving to a panhandler exacerbates the problem."

The councilman is encouraging drivers to keep their window rolled up, don't give out their change, and try not have an impact on traffic.

"It is going to be tough, because I understand I am asking people to do something counterintuitive, which is don't be compassionate, which is not what I am asking," he said. "What I am asking people to do is be as compassionate as possible, but let’s direct that compassion in a constructive way."

There's no timeline yet on when the signs will go up, but the councilman wants to eventually have a way for people to instantly give online to local charities.