Originally Published: July 22, 2018 10:34 p.m.
Prescott’s recent “experiment” on how best to reduce panhandling on city streets has had mixed results, say city officials.
Picking up trash and debris vs. panhandling: For a group of past and present residents of the Coalition for Compassion and Justice’s homeless shelter, it’s no contest.
They all say they prefer to have a job that pays a steady wage rather than resorting to asking for money along Prescott’s streets.
Several of the crew members in the program that the City of Prescott and the coalition (CCJ) launched recently acknowledge that they have panhandled in the past.
Crew leader Major Beesley says that while there is “no shame” in panhandling, the work program “supplies a means to make an honest living.”
Beesley was one of a crew of four, plus city supervisor Larry Stephens, working Tuesday morning to pick up tree limbs and branches that littered the Antelope Hills Golf Course after Monday’s storm.
Fellow crew member Daniel Birchum says panhandling sometimes has been the only way to raise needed cash.
“I had to do what I had to do,” he said, noting that he also has chopped firewood for sale.
The new work program that offers a steady job was a welcome opportunity, he added.
The program, which is a part of the City of Prescott’s “Change for the Better” initiative, aims to discourage panhandling. The Prescott City Council approved the plan this past spring, and dedicated $10,000 of bed tax revenue to the CCJ work program. The crew began working about two weeks ago.
In addition to the golf course work, the crew has so far helped to clean up the Prescott Rodeo Grounds after the July 4 World’s Oldest Rodeo, and has removed homeless camps.
“This is a blessing from heaven, it really is,” said Beesley, who lived in the CCJ shelter for about eight months before moving into one of the organization’s rental homes.
The minimum-wage ($10.50-per-hour) jobs are especially helpful for the shelter residents, Beesley said, because many have backgrounds of drug abuse and alcoholism.
“It brings self-respect for ourselves, and it makes us more self-reliant,” Beesley said.
Although the crew is starting small, with about five workers, Beesley said other shelter residents are interested and are watching to see how the program progresses. “Everybody’s just gung-ho about it,” he said. “We probably have 20 who are ready to rock and roll.”
Stephens says that is good news for the never-ending list of maintenance and cleanup tasks that he takes on each week — mostly with crews of community restitution workers. There is always more work than the crews can get to, he said, and the CCJ work program would help to tackle the list.
Prescott Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes explains that an agreement between the city and CCJ provides for the organization to bill the city at the end of each month for the hours worked on city projects. It is then up to CCJ to pay the workers, he said.
Baynes expects the $10,000 in city money to last through about the rest of 2018. He expects future jobs to focus on weed abatement and other cleanup tasks.
As for the future of the project beyond the end of the year, Prescott Special Projects and Legislative Coordinator Tyler Goodman said a report on the program likely would go to the City Council in coming months.
After that, he said, “There’s going to have to be further discussion on the (program’s) longevity.”
Goodman says the city likely always would have work that needs to be done, and added, “(The work program) is definitely a worthwhile thing.”
Eventually, the work program could branch out into contracting out its services to local businesses and organizations — a step that Goodman said could make it self-sustaining.
Beesley said he would also like to see the program grow. “We have all kinds of different trades — a lot of people with skills that are going to waste,” he said of the shelter residents.