Fairfax Ordinance Would Ban Panhandling on Medians and at Intersections

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Today the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion presented jointly by Supervisors Pat Herrity (R-Spriingfield) and Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) for staff to prepare a draft ordinance that would prohibit “curb to curb” engagement with cars while in medians or intersections. Similar ordinances have been adopted by other Virginia jurisdictions, including the City of Winchester, Clarke County, and Frederick County in response to the public safety issue of panhandling near roadways.

“The board continuously devotes a significant portion of the county budget to providing services for those residents who are down on their luck. I encourage residents to direct panhandlers to these taxpayer-funded resources including shelters, food banks, health, transportation and job matching services, instead of giving small amounts of money. We need to keep our roadways safe,” Herrity said.

Although homelessness in Fairfax County is shrinking, for the past two years there has been a noticeable increase in panhandling on medians and intersections throughout the county, the two said. In 2017 alone, the Fairfax County Police department received over 2,100 calls related to panhandling and many more calls have been received by district offices. These calls detailed traffic issues, concerns about panhandler safety, and fears about a suspicious person at an intersection.

While there are some who panhandle because they need to, many more take advantage of the generosity of Fairfax residents through panhandling rings, according to Herrity and Cook. Investigation into these rings has proven that many panhandlers in the county are coming from outside the county and even outside of the state, attracted by the wealth and generosity of Fairfax County residents, they said.

“We need to stop this public safety hazard of people walking in the street asking for money. It is unsafe and detracts from our neighborhoods. We have good programs in this county, and many nonprofit groups, who help the homeless and that is a better way to help,” said Cook.

In 2017 Herrity proposed a program called, “There’s a Better Way,” which he said has been successful in other jurisdictions nationwide. Fairfax City recently adopted this program which is intended to provide dignity through work and has been successful getting panhandlers the help they need. The draft ordinance presented at today’s meeting will come before the board again for discussion at the September 17th Public Safety Committee meeting.

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Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.