Announcement related to Merced panhandlers expected

Merced-area authorities are expected to make an announcement during a news conference related to panhandling today.

The news conference is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in Bob Hart Square, on the corner of Canal and Main streets, in downtown Merced.

Representatives of the Merced Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Merced County Sheriff’s Department, Citizens for the Betterment of Merced County committee and the A Hand Up – Not a Hand Out program are expected to take part.

The news conference will cover holiday traffic, pedestrian safety, the city’s median safety ordinance and ways to help the needy without supporting panhandlers, according to a city news release.

Last month, the Merced City Council made it a misdemeanor to use certain medians in town for anything other than a place to wait while crossing the street.

The ordinance applies to the medians of Auto Center Drive, Olive and Yosemite avenues, and G, M, R and V streets. The city added Martin Luther King Jr. Way north of Highway 99 to that list.

Business owners and nonprofits, with the support of the Merced Rescue Mission, rolled out a plan in the summer to curb panhandling by encouraging people to donate to charities rather than directly to people who ask for money.

The program A Hand Up – Not a Hand Out encourages Merced residents to carry business card-sized pieces of paper marked with places where panhandlers can get free food and shelter. The Merced Rescue Mission and some area businesses supplied the cards.