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Fairfax County discusses prohibiting 'curb to curb' panhandling

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to draft an ordinance prohibiting 'curb to curb engagement' at busy medians or intersections.
Credit: AP
In this Wednesday, May 10, 2017 photo Derek Cote, a homeless man, panhandles in the median strip on a street in Portland, Maine. The city recently began a program to offer day jobs cleaning up parks and other light labor jobs to panhandlers for $10.68 an hour. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved a motion to draft an ordinance that prohibits panhandling, or "curb to curb engagement with cars while in medians or intersections."

In Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Pat Herrity, a representative of the Springfield district, in conjunction with John Cook, a representative of the Braddock district, proposed staff draft the ordinance, stating panhandling in those areas is a public safety and community issue.

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

According to Herrity, homelessness in Fairfax County is shrinking, but panhandling by roadways is becoming more prevalent.

"In 2017 alone, the Fairfax County Police Department received over 2,100 calls related to panhandling, and many more have been received by District offices," Herrity said.

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Herrity said those calls mainly detailed traffic issues and safety concerns. 

But Herritiy said the Board of Supervisors has aimed to help panhandlers in the community by providing alternative resources.

"The board has committed a significant portion of the county budget to providing services for those residents who are down on their luck," he said.

The Board of Supervisors has also encouraged residents to direct panhandlers to the county resources, which include shelters, food banks, health services and job matching services, rather than give money to those panhandling.

"It is vitally important that we connect those in need with the right services, and disincentivize panhandling," Herrity said. 

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Herrity said several other Virginia jurisdictions, including the city of Winchester, Clark County and Frederick County, "responded to this public safety issue through local ordinances that prohibit any direct engagement with cars curb to curb, while on medians in intersections."

Those in the restricted area, as well as motorists, can be charged under these ordinances.

But Herrity said the ordinance wouldn't restrict sidewalks, nor would it restrict youth promoting car washes or other activities.

"People would still have the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights on sidewalks without interacting with those in the curb to curb area, without interacting with motorists." 

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion to draft the ordinance.

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