City seeks panhandling answer

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, March 12, 2016

By Allison T. Williams

and Tracy Agnew

Staff Writers

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A proposed new city ordinance could put North Suffolk’s panhandlers out of business.

On Wednesday, the Suffolk City Council will get its first look at a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal to panhandle in medians or within 15 feet of either side of the highway on 26 city roads, including almost every major thoroughfare.

The list includes College Drive, Hampton Roads Parkway, University Boulevard, Respass Beach Road, Burbage Drive, Harbour View Boulevard and others in the Harbour View area. It also includes roads in the Godwin Boulevard corridor and the downtown area.

The ordinance would also reduce from 25 to 15 feet the distance from the entrance or exit of a bank, check-cashing business or ATM from which panhandlers must stay.

In addition, the proposed ordinance makes violation of the code a less serious offense, dropping it from a Class 2 to Class 3 misdemeanor

The new ordinance comes as North Suffolk’s bustling Harbour View community is experiencing a spike in panhandlers in recent months, particularly along College Drive’s retail corridor.

Andy Sweet, president of the Harbour View Homeowners Association, said he’s heard complaints from multiple residents concerned about the surge in panhandlers. The number of homeless people with signs asking for money appears to have exploded since November, he said.

In Suffolk, it’s odd to see homeless people standing in the street corners asking for money, he said. The panhandlers in Harbour View appear organized, he said, working several hours a day and covering the busiest intersections.

“At first, I thought it was odd that they were all congregating outside retail areas … when they could go inside and apply for jobs,” said Sweet. “But they are working at the exits of every retail center into and out of Harbour View.”

Panhandlers in the medians also become traffic hazards, creating safety issues for both motorists and the pedestrians, said Burbage Grant resident Courtney Wolfe. If people walk into the street to get money from drivers, it impedes traffic and could easily cause accidents.

“It’s going to be an epidemic until we have an ordinance with some teeth,” Wolfe said. “I do think it will have a negative impact on an area that has become a retail destination for the region.

“Shoppers don’t want to see people begging at every corner,” she said. “They should not be allowed to set up shop like little independent businesses, trying to make money off the goodwill of shoppers.”

Tracey DeWitt, co-owner of sweetFrog in Harbour View, questioned whether some of the panhandlers are legitimately homeless and in need of help.

DeWitt said she offered one panhandler, who was making several restroom stops a day in the yogurt shop, the opportunity to apply for a job.

“She completely ignored it … and never came in,” DeWitt said. “If she were really homeless, she would have said I would love a job.

“She doesn’t want a job. She may need the money but as long as people and the system reward her for not getting a job, why should she?”

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