Opinion: Is Salisbury sending the right message with panhandling signs?

The anti-panhandling signs around Salisbury have raised sharp opinions.

Signs are everywhere. We rely on them every day to help us navigate our roads, point us in the right direction, provide us with information and alert us to emergencies.

Signs tell us where we are, what to do and what not to do. Signs welcome us to new areas and caution us about dangers.

Most of the time we take signs for granted. We see them so often we barely acknowledge their presence. But when we find ourselves in a new area or looking for an unfamiliar location signs quickly become most important to us.

So I’m feeling a bit dismayed at the new signs posted around Salisbury. The signs that read “Don’t Contribute to Solicitors.”

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I was initially surprised at the bluntness of the wording. And after learning more about the intent of these signs, I’m left wondering if this is the best we can do.

Apparently, the city of Salisbury requested these signs be put up in response to area businesses concerns about panhandlers. If you’ve visited the Route 13 shopping area lately you’ve probably noticed an increased presence of what appears to be homeless individuals.

They typically stand near a busy roadway holding a cardboard sign asking for money. The city’s requested signs are posted in these areas to discourage patrons from giving money in hopes the panhandlers will leave those areas.

The city has stated that its intent is to educate the public about organizations that are here to help the homeless. They want to encourage people to give their donations to those organizations and not to the individuals so real change can occur.

But how does a “Don’t Contribute to Solicitors” sign accomplish that goal? I think that sign sends a strong message to our community instead of educating them.

Our businesses have a right to voice their concerns. We should all be concerned. We have a growing population of homeless individuals including children in Wicomico County. They need support and resources.

Would it be more effective to post a sign informing us about HALO and other organizations? Are we working together – the business community, the city, homeless shelters – to educate our community and provide the support and resources needed?

I believe the current signs may encourage others to turn their backs on this growing population and not seek ways to support them.

I understand that by giving money to the individuals we aren’t helping them in the long run but let’s not send a message of discouragement. Can’t we instead seek to give messages of empowerment?

I can’t imagine that visitors to our area, college students, our youth are reading those signs and understanding the whole picture. Pretty soon those signs will fade into the background like all the others we see on a daily basis.

The panhandlers might fade from the area as well but their needs won’t fade. Unless we are ready and willing to increase our support (time and money) to help them, their needs will continue to grow.

Signs tell us a lot about the area we live in.

Are we sending the right message Salisbury?

  Contact Kim Hudson at tkhudson@comcast.net.

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