Toledoans are seeing a huge increase in panhandling on city streets. Some panhandlers don't have jobs and need to feed their families. Some are scamming because it's easy money.
Problem is, we have no idea who is who. We want to give money to the father whose children won't get dinner tonight otherwise. We don't want to give money to the lying con artist who will spend it on drugs or booze.
What are compassionate Toledoans to do? Toledo Streets, a street newspaper, enables our community to create change rather than give change. It provides employment, income, and most important, self-esteem to its vendors.
When I was a young addict and alcoholic living on the streets, I evaded work and other responsibilities to seek easy money. But every time I scammed even a dime, my self-esteem went down.
I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but my addictions caused me not to care. Ultimately, I concluded I was just a bad person. Only hard work and God turned me around, got me off the streets and off my addictions, and allowed me to make a relatively comfortable life.
The group I helped found, 1Matters, has funded the startups of street papers in Toledo, Detroit, and Ann Arbor. All are part of the International Network of Street Papers, which has 122 papers in 40 countries on six continents. They offer a united voice against poverty.
Our vendors buy the paper from us for a quarter, and sell it to you for a dollar, which they keep. Less tangibly but no less vital, each paper a vendor sells elevates his or her self-esteem another notch.
Toledo Streets, which launched in 2009 as a volunteer project, is undergoing a major expansion. This $35,000 campaign is headed by 1Matters board member Dan Rogers, the chief executive officer of Cherry Street Mission Ministries, and Bill Thomas, the executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District.
This campaign includes the slogan: Make change -- don't give change. If our community stops giving money to panhandlers out of misplaced compassion, we can stop supporting the behavior that lowers their self-esteem. Instead, we will build esteem every time we support Toledo Streets' vendors by buying a paper.
One of our vendors, Lawrence, sells Toledo Streets in front of the municipal courthouse. People are noticing his hard work. He has earned enough to buy a car, pay down his back child support, put money in the bank, and prepare to get housing.
You also can help make change happen by downloading coupons from the toledostreets.org or 1Matters.org Web sites to give to panhandlers. They read: "If you were selling Toledo Streets, I would be giving you $1 (or more) right now." They include instructions on how to sign up to become a vendor.
More vendors are turning up on Toledo street corners and at local fairs, concerts, and ballgames. They are working hard for food, shelter, clothing, and child support. You will recognize them by their badges and newspapers. Some also have Toledo Streets signs and vests.
Please give them a hand up -- not a handout -- by buying Toledo Streets, and by supporting the newspaper with electronic subscriptions and advertising.
Join us as a community to embrace our vendors, Toledo Streets, and our campaign for real change.
Ken Leslie is founder of 1Matters, which helps unhoused people in the Toledo area.