Panhandlers are seen on street corners throughout the community on any given day — and a local group is working on a plan to discourage residents from giving money to them and rather donate that money to area service providers.

A new Pueblo commission is seeking to start an anti-panhandling campaign and has requested money from the city of Pueblo and the Board of Pueblo County Commissioners for its operation.

On behalf of the Community Commission on Housing & Homelessness, Kathy Cline, the executive director of the Pueblo Rescue Mission, and Sara Rose, the chief operating officer for the Pueblo City-County Library District, presented the plan to council members and Mayor Nick Gradisar this week.

The county has kicked in $8,050 to get the anti-panhandling plan launched, and the commission is asking the city to do the same.

The commission wants to fight panhandling for myriad reasons, Rose explained to city officials,

For one, it impedes traffic and is a safety issue. She said seven panhandlers have been hit by cars and two have died in the past two years.

Panhandling also negatively impacts Pueblo's image — as well as Pueblo businesses by discouraging customers — from entering stores where it's happening.

Homeless individuals make up a small percentage of panhandlers, Rose said, and money given to panhandlers could better be spent in donations to organizations that directly serve the homeless. Most panhandlers are people with low income; con artists needing money for gas, prescriptions, kids or other reasons; human trafficking offenders; drug and alcohol addicts; and transients, Rose said.

The scope of the campaign the commission is proposing would center around crafting messages targeted at Pueblo community members to encourage them to easily donate funds to direct service providers through text messages rather than giving money directly to panhandlers.

The messages would be strategically placed throughout the community and would include billboards, bus benches, city buses and median signs.

The messages would have a phone number that residents can use to text money to service providers from their smartphones. The slogan planned for the messages is: "Give a hand up, not a handout."

The fiscal agent for donated money would be the United Way of Pueblo County, and donation recipients from the campaign would include the Pueblo Rescue Mission, Posada, the Pueblo Community Soup Kitchen, Cooperative Care, and Volunteers of America.

The campaign also would include community engagement via a graphic design contest aimed at schools in which students and those taking public library classes in graphic design would be asked to create designs for billboards, store window signs, parking lot signs and flyers.

"We think it will create a lot of conversation about the topic for those participating," Rose said.

The projected cost for the project is $16,100 and with the county having already chipped in half, the commission hopes the city will do the same.

Rose said the commission would assess the results of the campaign by collecting data, tracking donations, seeing if it reduces the number of people panhandling, and looking at how donated funds are being used by the agencies that receive them to see what kind of impact they've had.

Rose said the campaign would be conducted for a year — and if it's successful, the commission would pursue ways to sustain it.

rseverance@chieftain.com

Twitter: @RyanSevvy