The planned restriction on giving money to persons on street medians is once more rejected by the county board

October 20, 2022


By Patrick Huston

While declining — at least temporarily — to make it unlawful to engage with anyone in a county-owned road or median, Fairfax County is once again debating how to deter “panhandling.”

According to Herrity’s board case, soliciting for money in the middle of the road or in the median not only “generates considerable public concern,” but also puts both the solicitors and drivers at risk.

Pat Herrity, the Springfield District Supervisor, brought up the topic again at this week’s board meeting after it had come up several times in recent years.

According to a board resolution from Herrity, “Anyone who stands in the median of our busy crossroads seeking to engage with cars puts themselves in danger and offers a dangerous distraction to vehicles.”

A recent county study, however, partially challenges this claim. The board instructed staff to perform a study in May to determine whether there are “public safety issues” associated with persons standing in the middle of the road soliciting donations at Herrity’s suggestion.

This rule applies to everyone using the medians, including panhandlers, fundraisers, marketers, and others.

The study’s findings were sent to the board in July, and it was noted that, in part because that information wasn’t being gathered with sufficient detail, staff members were “unable to uncover a major public safety issue related to or originating from panhandling.”

The FCPD data is not consistent with claims that panhandlers are more likely to be hurt or killed than other pedestrians or that areas with panhandlers present have a higher risk of traffic accidents, the study concluded, despite the fact that panhandling appears dangerous and causes a lot of public outrage.

Herrity disagreed with the evaluation, arguing that “common sense” shouldn’t be replaced by a study. “I am truly horrified that we have not done more to protect our neighbours on this issue, given the horrible pedestrian fatalities we have had in this County, including one panhandler. What is common sense should not require a research to be determined, Herrity wrote in the board matter.

Herrity proposed asking staff to “draught a curb-to-curb safety ordinance that would prohibit anyone from engaging with motorists between the curbs of a road with the exception of recognised public safety entities” at the board meeting on October 11. This would include for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s yearly “Fill the Boot” campaign. Subsequently 2013, Loudoun County has had a comparable ordinance in effect; however, it has since been modified.

However, the motion was not seconded, and it was defeated before a vote could be taken. The concept has already been rejected by courts, but board chairman Jeff McKay said he is not opposed to continue the topic in a secret session.

Despite the fact that the last board resoundingly rejected this, McKay told Herrity, “I don’t oppose to having that dialogue, but I do think that conversation should happen before the staff begins crafting an ordinance for the benefit of your colleagues who weren’t on the previous board.” Herrity had a little more success when she asked for a public awareness campaign to tell neighbours that there are better ways to assist the less fortunate than simply giving them money. Additionally, it sought to educate property owners about their legal options for limiting the act on their property.

No supervisor had an opposition to that motion, so it was approved. Tony Castrilli, the county’s public information officer, mentioned during the meeting that the county has previously published materials that discouraged “panhandling” and provided the best ways to assist those in need.