WINCHESTER — A proposal to ban roadside panhandling in Winchester has the backing of one of the region’s top advocates for the homeless.
Brandan Thomas, executive director of the Winchester Rescue Mission at 435 N. Cameron St., attended Tuesday night’s City Council work session to show his support for an ordinance that would make it illegal in most circumstances for pedestrians to interfere with passing traffic.
“This is a common concern,” Winchester Police Chief John Piper told council, referring to the high number of people who have contacted his department regarding roadside panhandlers, solicitors and advocates.
Piper said his proposed ordinance mirrors laws in nearby jurisdictions such as Clarke County, which last month made roadside panhandling a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of $100 for a first occurrence and $250 for second and subsequent violations.
“The traffic/travel lane of city roadways in which motor vehicles are present and operating is not designed for, and is not an appropriate location for, anything other than travel,” Winchester’s proposed ordinance states.
According to Piper, people who request contributions from or distribute materials to passing motorists impede traffic flows and create safety hazards. Under his proposal, pedestrians and drivers alike would be charged with a traffic infraction.
The ordinance would include exceptions for roads on private property, emergency service personnel performing their duties, people involved in traffic accidents and those who stop to assist, food service vehicles conducting business, and newspaper and postal deliveries.
Roadside fundraising activities such as the Winchester Fire and Rescue Department’s annual Fill the Boot campaign, which was discontinued two years ago, would be prohibited under the proposal.
Piper said organizers of events like community car washes would need to caution volunteers who wave signs to get the attention of passing motorists to stay on sidewalks and out of the public roadways, less they be guilty of violating the proposed regulations.
“I think if this ordinance passes, there will have to be some community education,” Piper told City Council.
“I think this will help us a lot with safety in the city,” council Vice President Evan Clark said.
Thomas agreed, especially when it comes to panhandlers requesting money from vehicles stopped at an intersection.
“From what I’ve watched, people use this as an opportunity to escape ending their stint with homelessness and getting the help they need,” Thomas said in an interview following Piper’s presentation to council.
He said many panhandlers would rather ask for money than put in the hard work required to stand on their own two feet.
To ensure enough services are available for homeless people who are trying to turn their lives around, Thomas said area residents should support nonprofits that work to end homelessness rather than giving money to panhandlers.
“Do a little research and find organizations like the Rescue Mission, like WATTS [Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter], like Salvation Army, and maybe donate to those groups that are on the front lines solving the issue,” he said.
City Council voted unanimously to continue discussion of Piper’s proposed ordinance at its next business meeting on June 11.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Les Veach, Bill Wiley, Judy McKiernan and Corey Sullivan.