Dana Burnell said he’d rather be working.
But that’s difficult when you’re homeless and struggling with substance abuse issues, he said, standing at the intersection of Somerset and Franklin streets in Portland holding a cardboard sign that asks for money so he can buy something to eat.
“I’ve always been a working man,” he said on a recent weekday morning, shortly before a driver handed him $2. “I write ‘work’ on my sign and get few offers.”
Soon, panhandlers such as Burnell may not have to look far to find work.
City officials are working on a 36-week pilot program to offer day jobs to panhandlers. A city social worker would drive a van around to busy intersections and offer panhandlers a chance to earn $10.68 an hour cleaning up parks and other light labor jobs. They would be paid at the end of each day.
Panhandling has been a growing concern in U.S. cities such as Portland, where business owners worry the practice puts a damper on tourism and some residents and visitors complain about panhandlers asking for money on sidewalks and at stoplights. In recent years, panhandlers have spread into smaller communities and staked out street corners in places such as Biddeford, Scarborough, South Portland, Wells, Augusta and Bangor.
Communities’ responses have ranged from passing ordinances that restrict begging to discouraging people from giving directly to panhandlers.
Two years ago, Augusta’s police chief grew so frustrated with panhandlers that he took a day off to stand at an intersection with a cardboard sign telling people to donate to charities, rather than panhandlers.