Salisbury's newest strategy to curb panhandling has sparked a citywide debate on how the Eastern Shore’s largest city handles its homeless residents.
Local newspaper columnist Kim Hudson heard about the new signs Salisbury erected before she saw them, but when she laid eyes on the red and white signage that reads “Don’t contribute to solicitors,” she felt like it was sending the wrong message.
“The sign felt very blunt, very heartless, it felt like there was something different we could do," she says.
So Hudson wrote an editorial that ended up on the front page of a local newspaper, sparking a citywide debate on whether or not the signs are the proper way to handle the city’s growing homeless population.
Mayor Jim Ireton says the city contributes more than $100,000 to local organizations that help the homeless, and each winter, the city organizes community shelters for the homeless population to get out of the elements. But he says the signs are necessary to help law enforcement officials stop homeless residents from loitering in front of local businesses, and so far, he says they are working.
“All my residents are trying to do is go from point A to point B without getting accosted and I’m going to protect my residents before I do anything else," he says.
Salisbury does not have a panhandler law like other places on the shore, like Ocean City, where you rarely see anyone begging for change or squatting on the streets. Ireton says Salisbury’s problem of urban homelessness is much different than Ocean City’s.
"The people we have the problem with in Salisbury are called recalcitrant homeless people… they don’t want help," he says.
But Hudson says if the city simply added verbiage to the signs explaining how to donate to organizations that help the homeless, maybe that would end this debate. One thing Ireton and Hudson agree on, though, is that the problem isn’t going to go away — no matter how many signs the city of Salisbury puts up.