(Editor’s Note — This story’s headline has been updated to reflect that the county’s supervisors voted to collaborate with other agencies to evaluate panhandling.)
Three years ago, Virginia’s Fairfax County considered posting signs at busy intersections to discourage drivers from giving money to panhandlers. But efforts to rein in panhandling have stalled.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors rejected a motion by Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity to move ahead with his plan that would include an ordinance prohibiting panhandling.
It involved putting up signs at busy intersections that would discourage drivers from giving money to panhandlers, and a public awareness campaign aimed at residents.
“Most of the panhandlers that are out there have other options, and many of them are professional panhandlers. There are actually rings that come in from out of town, and they’ve got assigned corners, but there are also those that are truly in need, and we have programs to help those,” said Herrity,
“Our citizens expect that we’re compassionate, that we give people a hand up and get them on their feet, but they also expect us to take care of public safety issues like panhandling in public medians.”
Herrity said public safety officials have identified more than 40 busy intersections in the county where panhandling poses a risk to public safety.
The board approved a motion by Chairman Jeff McKay to review potential public safety implications of panhandling.
“I do see this as a public safety issue, as we recently had a pedestrian fatality due to panhandling,” McKay said. “This is a complicated issue involving free speech, constitutional rights and the fact that most of the dangerous activity is in roadways that are owned by the state.”
Herrity said that panhandling risks not only the safety of panhandlers, but drivers as well.
“It’s dangerous to be in the medians and it’s dangerous not just to the panhandlers … if a motorist stops suddenly to give a panhandler money, you’ve got the other motorists coming up behind him, not expecting him to stop because the light is green,” said Herrity.
Herrity charged that the board is needlessly delaying action to curb panhandling.
“We looked at this in 2019, right before the pandemic,” Herrity said. “We had a plan, and we should be moving forward with that plan.”