Poulsbo encourages community to not give cash to panhandlers

The city of Poulsbo will be putting up signs around town advising the community not to give cash to panhandlers in response to concerns about homeless people buying and using drugs from the money they are given, Mayor Becky Erickson said at the Oct. 4 City Council meeting.

On the sign will be a QR code that will direct people to a website about the North Kitsap Recovery Resource Center, a place to receive recovery services for drug and alcohol addiction, which is expected to open later this month. Services at the resource center will be available to anyone who lives or works in North Kitsap or is charged with a crime in the Poulsbo or Bainbridge Island Municipal Court.

“One of the problems we’ve had is when people give cash to people, they’re taking the cash and buying drugs. We have a homeless encampment down by Taco Time in the bushes by the creek,” Erickson said, adding there have been two overdoses there in the span of a week. “Now with fentanyl, you’re playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives. It’s got to stop. I don’t really want to do this but I feel compelled to do it.”

While panhandling is not illegal, Erickson is hoping the community will refrain from giving cash. “It’s a protected form of communication, and we can’t ban it,” she said. “But it is not the right thing to do. We need to say no. We need to educate our population.”

Councilmember Britt Livdahl said the sign should specify not to give cash to panhandlers, but other necessities like food and clothing would be acceptable. Erickson pointed out there are food pantries all over the city, and Fishline offers food 24 hours a day. “Food is necessary and seems like a basic human right,” Livdahl said.