CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new initiative in Charleston aims to tackle the city’s growing panhandle problem.

The Charleston Homeless Task Force announced Thursday the “Give Where It Belongs” campaign. People are encouraged to donate to the campaign instead of giving money to panhandlers on the street. The money will be distributed to homeless services providers in the area.

“We’re trying to remind people that it’s best not to give to them. Don’t put yourself in jeopardy. Make your money count,” said Beckey Ceperley, task force chair, following the announcement at the Charleston Area Alliance building.

The Task Force, in partnership with the Charleston Police Department, launched a new website where people can donate. It’s called givewhereitbelongs.com. People can also send money by texting “Home” to 313131.

“You can give $5, $10, 15, not huge amounts, but what you might give to an individual who says they’re hungry,” Ceperley said.

Most of the money collected by panhandlers are used for drugs, said Police Chief Steve Cooper.

“Some of the panhandlers tell us that they make $200 or $300 per day every day tax free,” Cooper said. “A lot of the money you’re giving to people is going into the pockets of drug dealers.”

If someone approaches you in a parking lot to ask for money, Cooper advises to report it.

“It should raise red flags. I mean anyone. That’s not something that is typical behavior. Trust your instincts. Go inside and report it,” he said.

The money generated from the campaign will go to the United Way of Central West Virginia who will then disperse evenly to six agencies that provide services to the homeless.

The agencies include Covenant House, Daymark, Manna Meal, RCCR, Roark-Sullivan and the YWCA.

Campaigns signs will be installed at various locations with the Text-to-Give message.

The Charleston Homeless Task Force was formed two years ago. It is led by the women of Charleston City council and includes members representing service providers, churches, state and city government leaders.

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