Downtown Sarasota sign discourages giving to panhandlers

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Don't give change to panhandlers. That's the gist of a new campaign by the Sarasota Downtown Merchant's Association. The group says their goal is make the public aware that giving money to the homeless is enabling them and not helping.

"We are very giving, we put our hearts and hands out there, and unfortunately we put our money out there also," says Ron Soto, head of the Sarasota Downtown Merchant Association. The group has launched a new sign campaign they hope will help convince residents to not give money to panhandlers.

"The reason we've done the signs is to let the public know and inform the public what actually happens to the money when they give them to some of the vagrants and stuff downtown who are pan handling,” Soto says. “The majority of that money goes to drugs and alcohol."

The signs list the shocking statistic that 93 percent of the money given to a homeless person will be used for drugs and alcohol. The figure is based on information provided by Dr. Robert Marbut, the homeless consultant hired to help the city and county tackle the homeless problem.

Not every one agrees with the number, however.

"I understand where they're coming from with the campaign, but in all honesty you don't know what people are going to use the money for so that’s why I've giving not much but a few dollars here and there"

Homeless person David Whitney says he's occasionally the person behind the sign.

“That’s the most humble pie a person can eat in their life,” he says. “I don’t want to be down here ... no, I don’t want to be down here. Every time you’re down here on the corner you get a ticket."

In addition, Whitney says he disagrees with the logic that 93 percent of the money given to the homeless will be spent on drugs and alcohol.

"Would I feel great about you handing me a $5? No, but would I feel great about the hamburger you just bought me? Yes,” he says, before adding “I don’t do drugs."

The Merchant’s Association isn't as optimistic.

"They get fed from the Salvation Army; they get breakfast, lunch, and dinner – actually, they’re about 28 places you can get free food in the downtown area, so it’s not because they’re hungry," says Soto.