CITYWIDE — Responding to concerns that a proposed anti-panhandling campaign could reinforce stereotypes about a city once known as the “home for the homeless,” officials are looking to take a different approach.

More than a year after a consultant was hired to craft a marketing initiative that would advise visitors to donate money to social service providers rather than give to beggars, City Hall is planning to broaden the scope of the campaign to target the entire community, educating about homeless issues in general.

The change comes after the consultant — GMMB — tested a number of anti-panhandling concepts with a focus group, learning that the perception about homelessness in the city has changed.

“They felt that there was a growing and significant perception of success in that the impact of homelessness in public spaces has decreased,” said Danielle Noble, a City Hall senior administrative analyst for homeless services.

The City Council tonight will be asked to reallocate the remaining funds set aside for the campaign — about $150,000 — to be used to roll out elements of the new educational program, which could happen before the end of the fiscal year.

After conducting research for eight months last year, the consultant presented three different concepts to the focus group, which consisted of residents and nonresidents, givers and nongivers. The focus group generally spoke favorably of a ball-of-change concept in which a homeless man is “chained” to the street by a ball made of coins, finding the message to be attention-grabbing. The second concept, which was more positive and focused on service providers, was found to be confusing for the test audience. A third concept was negatively received.

The ball-of-change concept was subsequently presented to a committee of business owners, social service providers and members of the faith community, expressing a mixed-bag of concerns, including about the impact that the campaign would have on stereotypes.

“I did not think that it represented homeless people well and I don’t think it represented the city well,” said John Maceri, the executive director of OPCC, Santa Monica’s largest homeless services provider.

Kathleen Rawson, the executive director of the Bayside District Corp., said that the private/public management company’s board had concerns that the campaign could rekindle the old image of the city as being a haven for the homeless.

“They felt that was not a good connection to have and that instead it should either be more generic and more regional in approach,” Rawson said.

The board was also concerned about the possibility of having the image posted on the side of buses or in the Downtown parking structures.

“Not that we have graduated from the problem, because we certainly haven’t, but we certainly have evolved,” Rawson said.

The new approach will focus on homelessness in general, informing the community about the successes of social service providers and educating on how to get involved, whether it’s through donating time or money.

“I think the idea of having a broader education campaign, not just around panhandling but around alternative giving, is a good one,” Maceri said. “I heard a lot of people say they wanted to know more information about what was happening both in terms of services that were available and what alternatives were available to help people.”

The campaign would highlight several ongoing efforts by City Hall, including its Action Plan to Address Homelessness, and would touch on regional programs. Included in the campaign will be a new Web site — www.givetherightway.org — along with presentations to neighborhood groups and a newsletter.

“It highlights the strategic effort to address homelessness in Santa Monica and builds on the growing perception of success and at the same time gives community members a way to get involved, either through volunteering, donating and alternative giving mechanisms,” Noble said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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