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Jeff Humphrey

Panhandlers Take a Ride to a Better Life

Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308


Thursday, July 19, 2018 at 2:59 p.m.

Updated: 07/31/2018

If you pull up to an intersection, see someone panhandling and then worry if you should be doing something to help them, you’ll be glad to know about Hope Works.

The new program offers people who are panhandling a chance to put down their cardboard signs and take a ride to something better.

“What we like to do is go out and chat with the panhandlers to see if they would like to work with us for the day. At the end of the day they would get a $50 Visa card,” explained Amanda Boyer of Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest.

Caseworkers like Amanda make it easier for people to accept the Hope Works offer because pandhandlers are allowed to lock up their belongings in the Hope Works van.

Once, six people have agreed to some light labor they a driven to a predetermined work site where they take up tasks that benefit the community like planting flowers and picking up litter.               

It’s an honest day’s work and caseworkers use the time as an opportunity to make a connection with people like Tom.

“Let’s find you something where you’re happy doing it, where you feel like you’re doing good,” Amanda offers Tom as they both pick up trash along Inland Empire Way.

Hope Works also provides their crews a bag lunch but a woman named Barb decides to save half of her sandwich for her dog.

Like 14 percent of Spokane’s homeless population, another worker named Jenna was forced to the streets fleeing domestic violence.

“They do want help. They do like working with us. We never have a group that just sits around. We have really hardworking people,” said Amanda.

Hope Works is funded, in part, by the City of Spokane and the Downtown Spokane Partnership. The Mayor and Council members feel the program is another way of helping homeless people want to help themselves.

“It contributes to their self-worth. I think that everybody needs to feel that they are contributing,” said City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

In fact, that’s exactly what Jenna said after her first day of picking up litter.

“I actually enjoyed it. I felt good actually getting in the van and doing something for the community,” recalled Jenna.

Once workers are driven back to Goodwill they get their $50 gift cards but are also extended services like help with housing, disability and social security benefits.

When you ask how they plan to spend their gift card, you realize these people want the same things the rest of us do.

“I’m gonna pay my phone bill tomorrow,” said Jenna.

“I plan on buying a blanket, a backpack, said a woman named Lee.”

A man in a wheelchair named John announced, “I’m gonna go to Greyhound with all my stuff and see if I can’t catch a Greyhound to Seattle.”

And then there’s Barbara, who went to work for Hope Works just so she could provide for her pet.

“That’s what I was doing out there today when you picked me up. I was trying to get dog food,” explained Barbara.

And while it’s hard not to give money to panhandlers, especially those with pets, the people who know a lot about homelessness don’t think your curb-side donations are a good idea.

“They get more resources working with us than just getting money from you. It’s definitely a lot better giving to organizations than giving to actual panhandlers,” stressed Amanda.

So if you’d like to keep the Hope Works pilot program rolling, you can text CHANGE to 50555 and make a $5 donation or contact Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest.

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