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South Side Fest
What: Family-friendly day of celebration and recognition of positive things happening on city's south side
When: June 28, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Ivy Tech South Campus/Public Safety Academy, 7602 Patriot Crossing, behind Southtown Crossing shopping center
Online: www.southsidefest.com
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How can you help panhandlers? Rescue Mission has answers

In the past, they've been a fixture in bigger cities or metropolitan areas.

Some carry cardboard signs. Some just a simple can or cup. Almost all of them have a story to share.

In recent years, panhandling has begun to crop up in Fort Wayne, with people setting up shop outside the parking lots of big-box stores or at traffic lights on roads leading into malls or other popular shopping areas.

And now, officials with the Rescue Mission downtown want to educate people on how to deal with those begging for money.

“There are a lot of people who want to and can help but don't know how to,” said Richard Cummins of the Rescue Mission.

As part of the fifth annual South Side Fest next month, officials with the Rescue Mission will launch an initiative aimed at addressing panhandling and homelessness.

A website, www.realchangenotsparechange.org, has already been set up.

The site gives a plethora of tips for dealing with panhandlers – speaking to them with respect, offering “real assistance” like directing them to the Rescue Mission or other shelters and thinking carefully about what may really be behind a panhandler's “hard luck” story. One tip it emphasizes: never give cash.

“If a person is hungry, buy them a sandwich and a beverage,” the website says. “If they say they need shelter, give them a Rescue Resource Guide that directs them to agencies that can help.”

“Is that money really going to make a substantial change in someone's life?” Cummins asked about the idea of giving cash to a panhandler.

The site also lists a series of “tall tales” that some panhandlers deal out to the public.

They might say that the Rescue Mission won't let them work, won't give them medication or will force them to work even if they are unable to. All of these are untrue, according to the website.

Cummins also pointed out that someone who is panhandling is not necessarily homeless, and a person who is homeless isn't always a panhandler.

Data is uncertain, but officials with the Rescue Mission believe there are about 2,500 people who are homeless in Fort Wayne.

An annual count of homeless people last year totaled more than 500, and a count from this year has yet to be released. But because homeless people may be less visible, that count is usually way off the actual number, according to officials.

“It's a tough measure,” Cummins said of such data.

Regardless, though, panhandling has become more common. And at South Side Fest, officials with the Rescue Mission are taking it upon themselves to address the issue.

“We're actually going to put tools in the hands of the community,” Cummins said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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