Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Roanoke Panhandling and the Law

Hi friends. Many of you have been asking about the specific laws in Roanoke when it comes to panhandling, some saying there isn't a law, others stating there is. Well, today I want to share with you what is currently on the books, what other cities around us do and what we can do to enhance our own laws regarding people excessively panhandling in Roanoke.

According to the Roanoke City ordnance code, soliciting is prohibited, which is a form of panhandling. The code states:

Sec. 28-2. - Fraudulent solicitations.
It shall be unlawful and a Class 2 misdemeanor for any person to knowingly make or perpetrate, or assist or aid in making or perpetrating, in any manner whatsoever, any misstatement, deception or fraud in connection with any solicitation of property or financial assistance for any purpose in the city, whether or not such person is required to obtain a permit under this chapter and whether or not such permit has been obtained.
While the code is in place, it's NOT illegal to stand on public property with a sign. There is a difference in the eyes of the courts with panhandling (or soliciting) and standing there with free speech. According to a US Supreme Court decision from a lawsuit in 2015, thats a violation of free speech, thus one of the reasons many police departments have been more relaxed on the laws since the summer of 2016.

However, many cities are working around the issue by being proactive. Recently a report on WDBJ 7, a report about panhandling in neighboring Christiansburg have come up with a great solution. They have introduced a law making it illegal to exchange anything between an automobile and a pedestrian and honestly that makes sense.

It's for safety reasons, not just for the the two exchanging money in hand, but for other cars around them if they aren't paying attention. While the law is still not perfect to stop panhandling, it does a good job of fining both the car and the panhandler in question.

In the video package, the panhandler they interview talked about how he had been doing it for roughly a year and he couldn't get help to get off the streets, using peoples money for food and hotel. Well, there ARE many places in South Western Virginia that specifically help individuals just like him.

Some of those places include:

  • RAM House
  • TRUST House
  • Rescue Mission
  • Red Shield
  • Battered Women's Shelter
  • Family Shelter of Salem
  • ARCH Services
  • Family Promise of Roanoke
  • TAP (Total Action for Progress)
  • Homeless Assistance Team of Roanoke
  • Samaritan Inn
  • EHS Support Services
  • Blue Ridge Behavioral Services
  • Comprehensive Family Counseling
  • New Horizons
  • VA
  • Acts 2 Ministries 
Many of these organizations offer food, shelter, mailing services, medical and mental health services, job placement services, etc. It's doubtful that the panhandler has tried all of them and has chosen to be on the streets to make money rather than be a tax paying part of society. 

What Roanoke City Should do to Fix the Problem with Those that Scam via Panhandling

Holding signs on street corners with messages and voicing your opinion is completely legal and is what makes America great. The act of panhandling is more than just free speech, it’s technically a business in the eyes of the law. You can’t restrict panhandling, that would be unconstitutional because of the free speech part of it.  However, you legally can regulate it because it is a form of business.

The moment one accepts financial transactions they are by legal definition conducting business. Is it fair that the man who started a hot dog stand on the corner has to be licensed and pay taxes, while the other guy makes 3x his income and has no regulations?

Both are businesses. Both need to be regulated in my personal opinion.

Let me repeat, we are not restricting freedom of speech, we are simply asking them to be licensed and to follow the law. We want to keep our city from becoming littered with people asking for a handout, especially when the majority of them either are not homeless or they refuse to use the resources in the area so they can line themselves with cash, often times making MORE than working a normal job in some cases.

Zero violation of free speech.

There are going to be times when people actually need help. This is what SHOULD take place for those panhandling in my opinion. The first time you are approached by an officer you can explain the situation and they will either help out, or just take your name down and you don’t need any license.

If officers are constantly seeing you ask for money, it’s then clear you don’t actually need help. You are obviously in the business of panhandling and by law, must obtain a license.

Additionally, Roanoke needs to take these known area hots pots and do some landscape deterrent measures while beautification. Several places downtown will implement measures like signage, spikes, plants ans bushes as well as other landscaping.

As a citizen you can also help. Educate, educate, educate.

Through our Facebook Page, members will post images, video and text about panhandlers they see on the streets and report it to the public. You can additionally use the online map to help report hot spots for panhandling within the area.

Additionally, you can share the FB group with your friends and family and help educate them on not handing out cash. We also ask that you take a moment and sign our petition.

You can make your very own blessing bag as an alternative handout. Blessing bags are great alternatives to hand out rather than cash and people in real need will gladly accept them. 

One thing that I'm planning to do is design business cards with the website and FB group for people to hand out. Those that want them can contact me on the FB group page to get a few of them. I plan to have them within the coming few weeks.


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