Northern Virginia panhandling town hall sees leaders discuss concerns, solutions

August 21, 2023


By Melissa Howell

Panhandling has become a growing concern among Northern Virginia residents, and local leaders hope to find a solution that will create safer streets and provide adequate social services.

From addiction, to basic needs and more organized panhandling groups, Prince William County Supervisor Jeannine Lawson said during a recent town hall that officials have received more than 500 calls related to panhandling concerns last year, and they expect that number to be even higher by the end of the year.

“We’re certainly enduring a lot of safety concerns as it relates to the panhandlers and the public,” she said.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity, also one of the event’s organizers, said that from November 2022 to July of this year, nearly 240 panhandlers were reported to Fairfax County police and 58 of those involved criminal acts by panhandlers.

One resident shared a disturbing incident claiming they were spat on and their vehicle was repeatedly kicked.

Herrity said that while more can be done, they are working to make more resources available, including housing and mental health services, all geared toward finding a more permanent solution.

“The county’s office of public affairs recently launched a public education campaign on panhandling, but no other efforts have moved forward,” he added, pointing out that providing money is not the solution and may have a negative impact.

Lawson said they are working with law enforcement agencies to implement a multi-prong approach, which includes social services, community services and transportation.

Loudoun County officials discussed a current ordinance that stops interference with traffic while still taking into consideration the rights of panhandlers.

Maj. Greg Ahlemann said the ordinance passed in 2013, and was revised in 2018. Law enforcement have made ordinance enforcement the last resort and have instead prioritized education. So far this year, they have not issued any summons.

Supervisors Herrity and Lawson said they would like to see similar solutions in their counties.

“I would really like Prince William to take a strong look at what’s working in Loudoun County,” said Lawson.