Change for the Better is an educational and compassionate alternative program to address panhandling in Anchorage.

The primary focus of Change for the Better is a public awareness campaign to deter panhandling in favor of supporting human service providers.

Instead of giving change to panhandlers who may use the money to feed an addiction, individuals can better serve the homeless population by giving to local service providers who provide food, clothing, shelter and other living necessities to those in need.

Through its emphasis on giving money to service providers, Change for the Better is one part of the long-term solution to the problem.

Spare change can’t help a panhandler – real change occurs when we put panhandlers in touch with social service providers who can attack the root of the problem.

Why is this program being launched?

Panhandling occurs throughout Anchorage, with the majority of activity taking place in Downtown, Midtown and within the Southside commercial areas. However, panhandling is not illegal. In fact, panhandling is an activity that is protected by freedom of speech laws.

But an increasing number of citizens, tourists and businesses have voiced concerns to city officials and Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. over the escalating problem of aggressive panhandlers and the impact they are having on the quality of life of citizens, residents, and visitors. Based on the experience of other cities, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Ltd. created the Change for the Better program to combine education of the public, compassion for the individual on the streets and alternatives for the panhandler to meet their needs for food, clothing and shelter with the hope that through the knowledge of these resources panhandling won’t be necessary.

Supporters of Change for the Better remain committed to the program because of its emphasis on long-term solutions to the problem. Spare change can’t help a panhandler – real change occurs when we put panhandlers in touch with social service providers who can attack the root of the problem.

It’s about more than just homelessness

Panhandling is more than just a homeless issue – it is a health & safety issue for both the public and the panhandlers themselves.

Safety for the Panhandler – Have you ever been approached by panhandlers who solicit from the side fo the road or from the medians?

While meant to be kind offers from caring citizens, money offered to panhandlers who choose locations such as these present a danger to the panhandlers and to the driving public. Drawing panhandlers directly into the dangers of traffic have resulted in serious automobile accidents.

Safety for the Public — In addition to the dangers presented by panhandlers in traffic, some individuals have felt threatened by panhandlers.

Generally, there are two types of panhandling: passive and aggressive. Passive panhandling is soliciting without threat or menace, often without any words exchanged at all–just a cup or a hand held out.

Aggressive panhandling is soliciting from certain locations (such as ATM machines), coercive solicitation with actual or implied threats, or solicitation through menacing actions.

In some cases, panhandlers who use physical force or extremely aggressive actions may actually be charged with robbery.

Panhandlers who threaten the public and our visitors’ safety will not be tolerated, and the Anchorage Police Department will respond.

What is the goal of this campaign?

  • To educate the public on the reality of panhandling in order to stop perpetrating it.
  • To provide a positive alternative to giving spare change to panhandlers. “Give a hand up not a hand out.”
  • To improve safety in our community and improve the Downtown experience for visitors and regular users.
  • To support social service agencies providing fundamental resources to people in need.
  • To help get individuals on the streets into a safer environment.
  • This campaign is not about saying “no” to panhandlers or about decreasing the public’s compassion toward the panhandlers. The campaign offers a way the public can truly help.

Change for the Better seeks to educate the public of the many resources already available to homeless and panhandling individuals. Social service agencies in Anchorage provide an array of fundamental basics – including food, clothing and shelter – and are well-supported by businesses and the public.

No one needs to panhandle in order to feed themselves. Spare change is only a short-term solution and does not create long-term results.

Change for the Better also seeks to provide an alternative to the accepted behavior of panhandlers and those who give money to panhandlers. The program encourages the public to contribute directly to social service providers instead of giving spare change to panhandlers who may use the money to buy alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.

People who give money to panhandlers cannot be sure where the money will go – but donors who give money to social service agencies know exactly where their funds are going and what their money is doing to help the problem.

Be part of the solution

The Change for the Better campaign is not the solution — it is just the beginning of a community wide effort to manage and possibly address the larger issues behind panhandling.

Panhandling is a complex social issue. Many of the root causes behind panhandling, such as poverty, drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness, are not easily solved. Despite this fact, the community can play an important role in managing the situation and at the same time ensure that all of our citizens have their needs met for food, clothing and shelter.

Donating to a local organization rather than to an individual not only benefits individuals in need, but the entire community as well. Donating to social service providers is one way that we can all help to make a change.