As a traveler who has stopped at many rest areas in your lifetime, you may have witnessed the following: individuals standing with scrawled messages on cardboard signs in front of public restrooms or near the parking lot. The signs can be quite heart-wrenching, stating anything from “Homeless with Children” to “Veteran, anything helps, God bless.”
At first glance, many of the messages appear to be quite legitimate, particularly signs saying a traveler has run out of gas, experienced a flat tire, lost a wallet or similar travel-related problems. You may have even donated, hoping that your contribution would go to the right place to help a desperate family or a veteran get back on the road.
However, the overwhelming majority of those who panhandle at rest areas may not be seeking a resolution to the immediate problems of food and shelter.
Why do you allow panhandling in the first place?
Holding a sign with a message on publicly owned property is protected under the Oregon and US Constitution, as long as the individual is not harassing or actively soliciting. If the individual follows you to your car, blocks your way, or exhibits aggressive behaviors, they may be reported to law enforcement.
What can you do to help?
There is a much larger and deeper issue to panhandling within rest areas, and the people who participate in this activity. Their signs typically claim they are stranded by mechanical or other difficulties, playing upon the compassion that most of us have for fellow humans in need.
While we do not ask you to determine the authenticity of those facing crisis, we do ask you that you consider how your donation encourages panhandling.
If a rest area visitor has legitimate travel-related problems such as losing a wallet or experiencing mechanical difficulties, OTE’s onsite and on-call staff ensure that help is delivered.
We encourage your donations to legitimate organizations. You will find many deserving charities and organizations in Oregon, including state agencies, food pantries and shelters. When you donate to a legitimate charitable or social services organization, your dollars stay within the community and go to providing real sustenance and help.
As with all of our public service announcements and programs, we invite your comments. Please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org.