Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski says the city will soon post signs around downtown Evanston to discourage making gifts to panhandlers.

Instead, Gandurski says, the signs will encourage making contributions to social service agencies that address homelessness issues and include a QR code that will link to a city web page where people can contribute to such groups.

The manager, speaking at a 1st Ward meeting Thursday evening, said she heard about the sign idea from officials in Rockford who told her that after they installed similar signs they saw aggressive panhandling “almost disappear.”

“I know that there’s been an increase in aggressive panhandling in the 1st Ward,” Gandurski said. “But it’s not unique to Evanston.”

She said the Rockford officials she spoke with told her they believe it’s happening in larger communities statewide and that the increase appears to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gandurski said it’s not safe for residents to open a wallet or purse on the street and that people begging on street corners may not actually be homeless.

She also said the city plans to provide information about the issue to Northwestern University students to try to discourage them from providing handouts.

Although she didn’t provide a date for the launch of the sign program, Gandurski said they should start appearing “very soon.”

On a related issue, the city’s parking manager, Mike Rivera, said that after a sharp cutback in security staffing at city garages when the pandemic dramatically cut into parking revenue, the city has been increasing security coverage to respond to issues of homeless people camping out in the garages.

The garages now have security coverage 20 hours a day, except between noon and 4 p.m., he said, and will soon again have round-the-clock coverage.

Rivera noted that the problem of people loitering in the garages has been most acute at the Sherman Plaza garage, where the stairwells are heated to keep the water-filled pipes of the fire suppression system from freezing.

The other two garages have dry standpipe systems that don’t have to be protected from freezing temperatures.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

10 Comments

  1. Great! Eliminate one of the few heated places a person can seek shelter in, in winter. What an uncaring world we live in. And I will keep giving to beggars. As I tell my grandchildren, no one stands out in the freezing rain or burning sun asking for money if they had a viable alternative. And if my money goes for self-‘medication,’ so be it. And if wrong choices contributed to their situation, that doesn’t gainsay their present need. I have NEVER encountered an ‘aggressive’ beggar.

  2. I too will continue to give as I do when I see people on Sherman in freezing temperatures. I almost called 311 to see if there was a shelter available. I also wanted to ask if they could check to see if someone was forcing some of them to beg.

  3. Thank you Arlene! The demise of humanity is in the LACK of small gestures. We need to ask ourselves how we can continue to contribute to society in the “messiness of humanity.” At a very young age, while driving with my nephew, he looked out the window and said when he gets older and makes a lot of money, he is going to make sure all of the homeless people have a place to call home. Let’s keep hope alive through empathy and love, acknowledging others and reaching out to help.

  4. Bravo excellent plan normally in downtown Evanston it is an outrageous group of panhandlers and beggars very disconcerting and upsetting. The Starbucks on Sherman is one of the worst places there’s actual ConMan there that are on walkers the situation is really bad so we commend you for solving the problem it’s a great idea and I’m sure it’ll be very positive and successful well done

  5. Rockford also has in place a city wide network of agencies committed to ending homelessness in the city. Their strategy as a Built for Zero community, is rooted in research based practice from a model developed by a national nonprofit, Community Solutions. They have effectively eliminated homelessness as an issue for veterans and the chronically homeless. Over 75 other cities/counties in the US use the model. Maybe we could learn more from their solutions than from their signage! See HomelessnessIsSolvable.org.

  6. This is an extremely sad and difficult issue – not just in Evanston, but, nationwide. We moved from SC back to IL, and I was shocked to see that where there had been no panhandlers before here, there were now just as many here as in SC. I got to know some of the ones in SC a little. One of them was an honor roll student, early graduate, who had gone to school on a full scholarship. He fell into drugs after a soccer injury, devastating his family. None of the panhandlers will go to the shelter because they feel treated like dogs there. Honestly, some of the staff did have very disparaging attitudes towards drug users, which most of them are – because it is hard to continually work with someone who does lie and steal. However dealing with them without empathy makes the situation worse. There is also an unnatural emphasis on “getting them to work” at some shelters. The stress of recovering from drug addiction to a future of working for a subhuman wage is probably overwhelming. Very few of these places actually connect the homeless to a real “hope for the future” in terms of a job whereby they can have a family, and a real, full life. It is difficult because if you give them cash, very often they will spend it on their drug addiction, which is not good for anyone. But if you put them up in motels, they will often use the opportunity to steal motel stuff and trash the place with needles. This is why many motels have become sort of brothels/places totally given in to drugs. But at least it’s a shelter. One of the worse aspects of giving them shelter though is that their drug dealers can capitalize upon this at times and trade drugs in the motels free from liability. So the issue becomes more complicated. The most ideal thing would be to give to social service organizations – but to have these places divorced from the capitalistic need to push these people into draconian routines, with the promise of 8 dollars an hour at the end of it. To actually show Jesus’ compassion, and give without expecting them to do some slave labor in return. I think if they were really encouraged that they could make it over their addiction, through college, and with a possibility to reintegrate to society, that would be the sort of shelter worth giving to. I am personally very saddened to hear about places that view “success” as pressuring them to work as slaves more speedily. That’s not real charity at that point, though I do believe a person is happiest working and being productive, when healthy. It’s bizarre to kick people out during the day, especially in winter, to motivate them to work. I am also saddened to see that if a person has a felony or a drug abuse charge, they can no longer get Pell grants. Or a lot of better employment. If a person steals something like in Illinois, and goes to jail for stealing some petty thing under 500 dollars, they will have that on their record – and the same thing if they did any illegal drugs. Then it seems like their future is pretty much sealed, with some rare exceptions. I would imagine the despair drives them to just “take whatever opportunities they can” – this so called “self medication”. I do believe that everyone, no matter how awful they are on drugs, should have a roof over their head. It becomes awful to know though that as soon as they get a roof over their head, a lot of them will turn to prostitution under that roof to get more of the drugs they feel they need. If social services at least provided them with housing, maybe that would help some of them not feel like they needed to do that to get by. But honestly in basically all the cases I have encountered, the panhandling issue IS the drug issue. There have been people going over and over again through rehab. It helps them for a little but does not get them off of the drugs permanently. I often wonder if there were fasting clinics – maybe if they did 30 days of praying and fasting, maybe it would cut out the drug from their life, it’s death hold on them. Maybe with sufficient prayer they would return to their right mind. All I know is that, it is extremely hard to show meaningful mercy to these people. They have food somehow. Sometimes they use the shelters at night, but panhandle in the day. They are both demonized and criminalized by society, but, when you talk with them – it becomes apparent that they are often almost beyond reaching in that – they cannot respond to compassion sometimes the way normal people would. Something often has broken in their souls such that they steal, lie, and are unable to feel and reciprocate emotion and trust like normal people. Not always, but it happens. The drugs become King in their life. I do believe it’s important to continue to show them compassion. I see that giving donations by the side of the road isn’t really helping them in the end. But I see also the social services aren’t helping them either. We must do what Jesus said, in trying to care for them in one avenue or another. The solution is not calling them criminals. It’s somehow facing the sins that brought us as a society to this point. Maybe turning to God in repentance as a nation and generously giving to the poor, maybe this combination can at least save the next generation.

  7. Keep in mind, that majority of the homeless have mental disabilities and cannot handle a job. We can now see this serious issues on a micro level on how it impacts our city. We need mental health help available to these individuals all around. Yes, some may deny but having an extra service and availability and helping hand would be extremely beneficial to all. What’s alarming is the difficultly to receive such services if you’re homeless and or have low income! There are not enough shelters or help to provide for people in this situation. Where’s the out cry? We see a person that’s homeless and we pity them for a moment and then go on our merry way. We get to go home to a house with a comfy bed. It really tugs at my heart strings that could be my child one day or my neighbors kid! Please get tough on our elected officials and demand very low cost and free mental health and some sort of vocational training for people in need. These people do not need to be treated like cockroaches. They have a soul and want the very same thing you and I do!

  8. Cold winds starting Jan 1 2022 have cleared our streets of panhandlers many of whom are from outside EV and actually live in EV subsidized “inns” and other non-tax paying properties. Signs are one idea to alert “visiting customers from outside EV” that we do not want to proliferate panhandling here. However…..since cold weather has kept many of our constant panhandlers away these past four weeks! lets start the signs end of Feb to prove their intended purpose is successful. CH

    1. Of all the things going on in the world today, you choose to not pick about “Panhandlers? This is 2022. People are asking for help, and you want to deny them of getting that assistance from actual caring people that actually want to help? The more aggressive Panhandlers are from Albany Care, but others are either Homeless and/or poor. And you actually think it is a good idea to hurt them even more. Focus on you, and your jobs and leave these people alone. Or better yet, why don’t you go through one of these agencies,and see how well that works for you. Everyone needs money, EVERYONE, and these agencies do not provide it.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.