Targeting Panhandlers,

Detroit Begs to Differ

Ever wonder what happens to that loose change you give to a panhandler?

In Detroit, a downtown business group has launched a program called "Loose Change for Real Change" in Greek Town and the financial district, to make those who contribute feel a little more comfortable with their giving.

As part of the project, Detroit Downtown Inc., a downtown beautification group, is asking people to put the money they would normally give to individudals in clear plastic containers inside participating businesses. The money collected, they said, will be used to provide assistance for hundreds of panhandlers downtown.

Two social workers will tag along with police who go out on begging complaints to discuss options, including job training and substance abuse assistance.

Organizers concede they also are trying to reduce the number of beggars, who many business owners say are hurting their business. It is modeled after a program of the same name started two years ago in nearby Ann Arbor, Mich.

Some panhandlers doubt that the offers of help are serious, and even if they were that many people would respond favorably.

"Too many of these people don't have the mental capability to make that decision," Jeff Gray, 31, homeless on and off for five years, told the Detroit Free Press. "I think it's a cleanup process for what's going on down here."

-- Robert E. Pierre

From Florida's Point of View,

She Ought to Be in Pictures

Cashing a check can be a real hassle for Sultaana Freeman.

She hauls out a birth certificate, a Social Security card and a letter certifying that she changed her name as an adult. Even then, she doesn't have anything with her picture.

Freeman, who lives outside Orlando in Winter Park, has been fighting with the state of Florida for more than a year. First, the state took away her driver's license after finding out that a Motor Vehicle Department office inadvertently issued her a license even though Freeman, a Muslim, refused to lift her veil for the photograph. Now, the state is refusing to give her a photo identification card for the same reason.

Freeman filed a lawsuit recently challenging the identification card denial. She also has a lawsuit challenging the state policy that requires "full-face" photos on driver's licenses.

Freeman isn't getting sympathy from some Muslim rights groups. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he doesn't believe her religious rights are being violated, and noted that some predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East require veils to be removed for passport photos.

But Freeman's attorney, Howard Marks, says she is a victim of improper targeting of Muslims since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"To think a terrorist would use this is ridiculous," he said. "What better way to draw attention to yourself?"

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

To Counter Thirsty River Plants, Texas Turns to Hungry Carp

Texas authorities have spent years struggling to save the dehydrated Rio Grande from thirsty exotic plants that clog the river and absorb its waters -- and soon, they'll deploy an unconventional new warrior in the battle: neutered fish.

During the coming weeks, officials will release into the river 25,000 to 50,000 genetically neutered grass carp -- called "triploid" for the extra set of chromosomes that renders them infertile -- in hopes the fish will devour invasive plants that suck up the Rio Grande's waters.

Tangled aquatic plants such as hydrilla and water hyacinth have impeded the river's flow and worsened conditions in drought-stricken South Texas. Hydrilla has been named one of the Nature Conservancy's "Dirty Dozen" of nonnative plant and animal species. Because carp reproduce quickly, eat any vegetation that crosses their paths and present a risk to farmlands and native flora along the river, a team of Southwest Texas University biologists tested a preliminary team of the triploid carp last summer. The modified fish, which were equipped with radio tags so scientists could track their movements, performed perfectly, mowing down the insidious plants.

Biologist Tom Arsuffi said he is confident the sterile swimmers can help control the plants. "These guys are vegetarians and they like aquatic salads," he said. "They're very effective."

-- Karin Bruillard