Concerns about panhandling

Traffic moves near the corner of James Madison Highway (Route 15) and Camp Creek Parkway in Zion Crossroads.

County officials are talking again about curbs on panhandling in Zion Crossroads, after they shelved the issue three years ago.

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors asked staff at their Jan. 4 meeting to draft an ordinance to discourage the practice. The legislation would not necessarily be limited to the Zion area. But Chairman Bob Babyok (Green Springs District) said he was concerned about people asking motorists for money at the corner of James Madison Highway (Route 15) and Camp Creek Parkway.

Panhandlers approach drivers as they wait for the red light, creating a public safety hazard, Babyok said. He cited a recent case in which a man on foot was almost run over while crossing three lanes of traffic.

The board last addressed the issue in 2017. At the time members considered  forbidding people from asking for money within 100 feet of the intersection in Zion Crossroads, and at the corner of New Bridge Road and Zachary Taylor Highway (Routes 208 and 522) near Lake Anna. Panhandling has not been reported as a problem at the latter location, however.

Back then, some members voiced concern about barring volunteer fire departments and other charities from fundraising while standing near the median at key intersections.

During Monday’s discussion, Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry District) suggested the board look at Henrico County’s model. Signs at intersections in that locality ask motorists not to give money to panhandlers and provide a phone number to call to obtain services such as food and housing assistance.

Henrico erected the signs after a court ruled that an actual ban on asking for money was a violation of panhandlers’ solicitation rights.

Supervisors Duane Adams and Toni Williams (Mineral and Jackson districts) said  any kind of ban would place an additional burden on the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, since it would be obligated to enforce the law. They also objected to the potential impact on the person who needs help.

“The last thing he or she needs is to be arrested,” Adams said. “What they need is some safety net – would we have a procedure in place to do that?”

Babyok said a deputy who spoke to a man asking for money in Zion Crossroads recently told him that it was easier than seeking help from social services agencies.

“Don’t assume they aren’t already seeking it,” responded Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo District).

For his part, Supervisor Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road District) opined that some panhandlers “are not as needy as you might think they are. They’re making money at something that’s an easy con … and can make more money panhandling than going for services.”

The board voted 7-0 to have staff draft an ordinance and to consult with the sheriff’s office about the proposed language.

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