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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Nearly two months after Gainesville banished panhandling, I'm giving a D-minus to Gainesville's "Give a Better Way!" program for refurbishing old parking meters into collection stations.

It doesn't take a math major to see that spending about ,259 for signs while raising only ,101.70 in donations is not profitable. Forty dollars was also raised online through PayPal.

Usually, I am not one to express anger in my writing, but after what I've seen over the past several months, the solutions look uglier and uglier.

First, the Gainesville City Commission punished panhandlers with a fine or jail time - ironic, considering most people who panhandle do not have the money to pay a fine in the first place. The Alachua County Commission also created a rule against panhandling.

Then, the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency tried to get the poor to join a homeless soccer league - with no pay for play.

Not only that, but Jim Hencin, city block grant manager, said the city should spend more money beyond refurbishment to push the program more aggressively. If the results from the first two months are any indication, the city may put itself into an even bigger hole. People, no matter how generous, can only give so much.

There is only one solution for the program: The government should not let it run for a full year. It should terminate the program immediately.

If the leaders of Alachua County really want to help the homeless, they should take money they would have spent hawking the program and give it directly to the poor.

If county leaders knew then what they know now, they could have donated twice as much toward bus passes and food than what they got from the meters.

The citizens who give them tax money work far too hard for far too long to give it to people, who in turn spend it on advertising that is supposed to convince them to give away even more of their money.

That doesn't mean the homeless aren't important. It just means there need to be better ways of providing for them. Continuing the program makes no more sense than a soup kitchen going out on a lunch break.

By the way, the panhandling ban isn't working either. Because the ordinances only work within the city and unincorporated parts of the county, people could beg for money outside those parts without punished.

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Besides, even if the city locks up those who beg, it has to give them food and clothing for the length of their stay. Why not put up more homeless shelters? It would take care of the needy until they could work without putting them at risk for crimes.

In fact, why not put the student-run homeless shelter measure back on Student Government ballots next year? Students who are willing to take jobs there could get financial aid for their educations, plus the homeless could stay off of the streets until they find jobs.

That's a win-win situation for the county, the homeless and UF. And yes, students are willing to run a shelter. If it narrowly missed becoming reality this year, imagine if a few more affirmative voices voted in the next.

Vincent Gagliano is a sophomore majoring in physics. His column appears on Wednesdays.

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