STREET LEVEL Harvard to Lewis (copy)

Tulsa World file

While panhandling tends to become more common during the holiday season, Tulsa charities generally discourage people from handing out cash to complete strangers on the street.

The money could be spent on alcohol or drugs, officials say.

Instead of giving cash, offer directions to The Salvation Army or other service agency, suggested Maj. Mark Harwell, area commander for The Salvation Army.

“Those who feel strongly compelled to provide personal resources,” he said, “could offer to purchase a meal for the individual or family.”

The Mental Health Association Oklahoma offered the Tulsa World four pieces of advice on how people should respond to panhandlers.

First, see them as people.

“We may not be able to give money,” the association says, “but a simple look or response that says, ‘I see you,’ does a lot to give someone the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Second, instead of handing cash directly to a panhandler, donate to A Better Way, which offers an alternative to panhandling, the association suggested.

The Mental Health Association teamed up with the city of Tulsa to launch A Better Way in 2018, offering a day’s wage for a day’s work.

A Better Way’s van stops in “hot spot” areas around Tulsa to offer jobs to panhandlers, who work on beautification projects around the city. In the first year, the workers removed nearly 22,000 pounds of trash from city parks.

Caseworkers also help participants look for long-term employment opportunities. Donors can text ABW to 898-211 to make a contribution.

Third, notify the Homeless Outreach & Rapid Response Team, an outreach program that can offer help to homeless individuals and families.

To notify the team, complete an online form that alerts the association of people in need of services. To let the team know where to find someone in need, fill out a form at

Finally, instead of cash, the Mental Health Association recommends giving food or bus tokens.

“Carry around a couple of energy bars, a bottle of water or some other snacks that you can give when approached,” the association says.

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