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Downtown groups launch 'Real Change not Spare Change' campaign

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TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Downtown Portland businesses launched Wednesday, June 17, a campaign to funnel spare change into groups helping the homeless, rather than giving to panhandlers on city sidewalks.Portland business and social service leaders relaunched the "Real Change not Spare Change" campaign Wednesday to encourage downtown residents, workers and visitors to make donations to established homeless agencies instead of panhandlers.

Appearing at the press conference were representatives of the Portland Rescue Mission, Transition Projects, New Avenues for Youth, and the Downtown Clean & Safe District, which is affiliated with the Portland Business Alliance.

“We want to disrupt that moment when someone would hand change to a person on the street and instead redirect that generosity towards groups who can offer the most widespread help,” says Mark Schlesinger, partner at Schlesinger Companies and incoming chair of the Downtown Clean & Safe District board of directors. “Portland has terrific nonprofits that are helping people move from the streets to safer shelters and ultimately to more productive lives. We want to encourage financial support for those programs.”

The campaign includes A-boards and flyers on heavily-trafficked downtown streets and advertisements on MAX trains travel though the Transit Mall. They encourage those approached by panhandlers to instead donate to the organizations at the press conference. The campaign provides a website, a number to text, and a QR code to scan from a mobile device that allows for a donation. The proceeds will be split among them.

According to the group, panhandling increase along the number of homeless visible on downtown city streets as the weather improves. A recent survey by Downtown Clean & Safe and Transition Projects found that money given to panhandlers for food and shelter often also goes to harmful addictions, such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. In contrast, organizations that work with the homeless and rely on donations offer basic services, while helping them take steps to improve their lives.

"This is a community problem, not a government problem or a business problem. The campaign is important because it show the community can work together to solve it," says Schlesinger.

The campaign runs from June through November. Donations can be made by texting "give" to 503-345-5438, scanning the QR code on the signs and ads, and by visiting www.realchangepdx.org.