He said his nickname is “Houston.” Loaded down with a backpack, he trudged past a “No Panhandling” sign on Fourth Street in Marysville. Reaching the off-ramp from northbound I-5, he pulled out a hand-lettered sign.
“NEVER THOUGHT I’D HAVE TO DO THIS BUT GOD HUMBLES EVERYONE,” it said. He placed another sign on the ground next to him. It had a phone number and an offer: “Any Type Labor.”
Houston said he makes his way on the money people hand him, and on “little side jobs.”
“I understand why people get sick of seeing it,” said the man, adding that he’s 48 years old and from Texas.
A mile or so from where he stood Wednesday, in the Safeway parking lot on Marysville’s State Avenue, signs urge people to “KEEP THE CHANGE.” They say “Don’t Support Panhandling” and “Give to a Local Charity.”
Available to businesses, “Keep the Change” signs have been on display in Marysville and Arlington for several years. To further curb panhandling, the two cities have now joined forces to create a flier listing community resources.
Called “This Community Cares,” the flier urges people to “consider keeping your wallet closed when approached by panhandlers.” It lists area food banks, feeding ministries and charities that give clothing. The flier includes addresses, phone numbers and maps showing resource locations. “When you give money to a stranger, you can’t know how it will be spent,” the flier says.
Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said his city’s panhandling ordinance has helped curb the practice in some places. It bars solicitation within 300 feet of busy intersections, and prohibits coercive panhandling.
Yet a number of businesses — the State Avenue Safeway, Albertsons at Marysville Town Center, and retailers and apartments west of I-5 in the Smokey Point area — are plagued by panhandling, he said.
Panhandling is also a big problem in that area east of I-5, said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert. “That whole Smokey Point area is a target,” she said. “If people give money directly, it’s really a Band-Aid. We want to get people into a system of resources.”
Feelings about how to help are “all over the place,” she said. “Some want to stop and help — to give out of their car. Other people are frustrated and disgusted. The community has a choice.”
Money given on the street shows it pays to stay there, she said. “I think there are better ways,” Tolbert said.
Some Marysville businesses have heard complaints from customers, Nehring said. The mayor said mothers have called him to say they were approached for money while pumping gas outside Safeway.
“We’re asking our citizens who have big hearts to continue to donate, but to know the money goes to help,” he said.
Arlington has created new Stay Out of Drug Areas, or SODA, at Smokey Point. The boundaries mean people with drug histories are ordered to stay out of certain locales. Marysville might expand its SODA orders to include the Smokey Point area.
Tolbert said Arlington’s proposed budget seeks to add an embedded social worker to accompany police officers as they deal with homelessness and addiction on the streets. Social workers already accompany Everett police officers and deputies with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. “That program helps build trust,” Tolbert said.
“There isn’t a city in the U.S. that is not dealing with these issues. It’s everywhere,” Tolbert said. “I’m proud of the partnership Mayor Nehring and I have formed. We’re not pushing the problem between the two cities.”
Connie Mennie, Marysville’s spokeswoman, said the city helps people who are homeless through an agreement with the Everett Gospel Mission, several city-owned houses and one home run by a church. “The need is great,” she said.
The flier has two aims: telling donors how to support nonprofits, and letting people in need know where to find food and other help. “Cash donations are not something we want to support,” Mennie said. She hadn’t thought about whether a panhandler might be angered by being given a flier rather than money. “We have worried about litter,” Mennie said.
People aren’t uncaring, Tolbert said. “Both Mayor Nehring and I have very generous and compassionate communities,” she said.
They want the money people give to be spent on bettering lives, not on drugs or alcohol. Tolbert believes in pointing people toward help. “It’s not as fast as we all want. At least it’s a step in a positive direction into hopefully a healthier life,” she said.
On the street, Houston talked about his life. He said he has worked at many jobs, and has been a drug dealer. Home, he said, is now under a bridge. He said he needs about $20 a day to survive. At times, he said, he has to buy something just to use a bathroom at a gas station.
“You don’t know unless you live in these shoes, walk in these shoes,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
“This Community Cares,” a flier listing food banks, feeding programs and other resources, is available at Arlington and Marysville city halls, at both city websites (www.marysvillewa.gov and www.arlingtonwa.gov), or online at: http://bit.ly/ArlMsvlCares.
View the flier at www.arlingtonwa.gov/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid =15517.