WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) –Winchester City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday banning panhandling that is disruptive to traffic.
Some residents say it’s a consistent problem along roadways, such as Pleasant Valley and Jubal Early Drive.
“I think it’s dangerous,” said Frederick County resident Ralph Hensley. “And even though they don’t get in the way of traffic most of the time, I’ve seen them out a couple times chasing cars.”
Winchester Police Chief John Piper, who proposed the ordinance, says the issue is a safety concern for everyone involved.
“We’ve recognized for quite some time that here in the City of Winchester we received a lot of concerns from citizens and visitors to the city about their perception that these activities of people soliciting on the side of the road or the median or actually walking in the street is number one: dangerous and number: it interferes with the normal flow of traffic,” Piper said.
A similar ordinance was passed recently in Clarke County, and Piper says he met with the leadership of organizations that work with the local homeless population to understand the benefits and drawbacks of such an ordinance, which allows police to ticket panhandlers violating the ban.
However, Piper says it’s limited only those who are demonstrably disrupting traffic.
“I suspect we’ll start getting calls from many people in the community starting next week saying, ‘I see someone standing at this intersection and it looks like they’re asking for money,'” he said. “That activity in and of itself is not necessarily illegal. It has to be that either the driver’s activities or the pedestrian, the solicitor or panhandler’s activities interfere with the flow of traffic.”
Tickets would start at a maximum fine of $100, and Piper says the courts have latitude to lessen the value of the fine. Still, some residents think ticketing a portion of the population that is asking for money doesn’t make sense.
Several years ago, Winchester resident Kareem Brown was homeless himself and says he resorted to panhandling during that period of his life.
“If somebody doesn’t have money, then to fine them, that’s not a solution. That’s like expecting to get orange juice from a turnip or something,” Brown said. “That’s probably not going to work financially.”
Others question how officers can enforce the policy.
“How do you determine if it’s disrupting the flow of traffic? Because largely I notice when traffic moves they really aren’t hopping out in front of cars or anything,” said Winchester resident Celeste Youngblood.
Other residents question why the ordinance is needed at all.
“I don’t see that it hurts anything if they’re standing on a corner,” said Winchester resident Brandy Davis. “Typically I’ve never seen anybody stop when there’s a green light or when traffic is flowing. I’ve mostly seen and myself have given money as well when I was at a red light.”
Chief piper says officers won’t start ticketing panhandlers immediately, but officers are informing panhandlers of the new ordinance.
“What we’re hoping is that through this education and through the contact with people in the community, is that we’ll get voluntary compliance,” he said. “That’s our goal.”