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My Turn: Take it from me: Concord needs panhandling ban

I am the shelter director of The Salvation Army McKenna House, the only full-time homeless shelter in Concord, and I hope the city continues working on an ordinance banning panhandling.

I can tell you many of the men and women holding the signs are not trying to end their homelessness. They are not trying to come into our shelter, and a few of them are not even homeless.

Last Thursday I saw a former resident standing by the off-ramp of Exit 14 of Interstate 93 with a sign saying she was homeless and needed money for diapers. First of all, she has an apartment. Second, she has never had children, and I have seen her talking on an iPhone.

One of the men who stands on Storrs Street lives across the street in the new apartments.

I have seen many panhandlers buying alcohol, and I have seen known drug dealers sitting in the parking lot just waiting for the sign-holder to get enough money to buy drugs.

I have talked to a resident who is now clean and sober who would stand on the Manchester Street exit to confirm this.

I have made many calls to the police about almost getting rear-ended by someone looking or trying not to look at a panhandler holding a sign, or almost hitting a sign-holder who walked between the cars to get a donation. I have also received many phone calls telling me I needed to help those people.

When I see someone new, I do stop and hand out the shelter’s card. I have talked to the outreach worker who works directly with the homeless, and he agrees with me on this panhandling issue.

When I want to do a food drive, I am required to pay for a permit and have certain rules I must follow. When the Salvation Army rings the bells in November and December, it must pay for a permit for every kettle and follow certain rules also.

I have lived in Concord for more than 20 years, and this has only been a big problem for the past eight or nine months. Please do not try to blame the economy. We have always had homeless men and women. This city has so many resources for the homeless, if they only seek them out.

Please keep going forward on this ordinance.

(Lorrie Dale is shelter director for the Salvation Army McKenna House in Concord.)

I recently stayed at The McKenna House, hoping for an upgrade from the cold shelter, having access to a shower, laundry and kitchen facilities. The cost was a choice between paying $10/day, or performing 20 hours a week in community service, in addition to a daily chore. I happily chose community service, but found that, even after exceeding my mandatory hours, I somehow still owed money. House volunteers are former substance abusers who seem to relish their position of power. I left voluntarily, as I found the house rules to be a hindrance to getting back on my feet. Miss Dale held a house meeting before I left, clearly stating her objective was to turn over beds, to continue to receive funding. Handing out cards, and banning panhandling, would serve her purpose well.

I think that Director Dale has a point. Stop feeding the drug and alcohol addicts. They don't want real help, they're B---S----ing you for their next fix for their addictions.

If holding a sign and misrepresentation is a crime, should we also arrest people holding signs for their favorite candidates on street corners throughout the state?

For many years we have been supporters of the numerous organizations available to the homeless in Concord. I found Lorrie's letter in the Monitor very honest and enlightening. In my opinion she is very qualified to comment on this issue as well as bring some important facts to the forefront for an individual to consider when approached by a panhandler. I agree with her that this issue has been much more obvious I the last 8 months or so and I wonder why? Bottom line here is simple - give to those organizations that have a proven track record with our local homeless and provide their necessary needs

Her main argument is her purportedly authoritative view that most current Concord panhandlers are not really homeless and are misrepresenting themselves as such. But, given the constitutional protection panhandling enjoys, any proposed ordinance supported by that argument would be legally unenforceable. If this column reflects Ms. Dale’s view of what a “shelter director” is, or the Salvation Army’s view of how best to “shelter” the homeless, neither should count on my future support.

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