New ordinance could cost panhandlers big in Chesapeake

CHESAPEAKE Va. - If you are caught panhandling, you could be ordered to serve community service or you could end up paying a $200 dollar fine for pedestrians and $350 for drivers.

It’s called the solicitation ordinance, and the Chesapeake City Council passed it unanimously with the goal of reducing panhandling in the city - an issue that has recently become problematic and sparked numerous complaints.

While the ordinance doesn't expressly prohibit panhandling, it does limit loitering and restrict pedestrian activities in traffic lanes.

The following description was on the docket at the city council meeting:

This will ensure that loitering is restricted by Section 66- 17, which will restrict pedestrian activity, other than the lawful crossing of a street and certain other exceptions, within the traffic lanes of all public roads in the City that are either 35 mph or have four (4) or more travel lanes. The definition of" public right of way" expressly excludes sidewalks and pedestrian trails.

Council member Robert Ike said he supported the ordinance for safety reasons.

Ike said he has seen youth football and cheerleading teams raising money on more than one occasion, causing kids to be in the busy streets when the lights turn green. He said it’s not if, but when someone will get hurt.

Some residents agree.

"They're always there. They are all over the place," said Chesapeake resident Mark Hanlan. "Someone is going to seriously get hurt with them coming up. Well, it's distracting. They're always at a light, and around here there are lights and three or four lanes, and it's distracting," he said.

Several council members said it saddened them to see campaigns like Fill the Boot, where firefighters raise money for those who are affected by muscular dystrophy.

Another Chesapeake resident, Matt Poling, said he understands the council is trying to make a change for the better but worries this isn't the only solution.

"I feel like they are trying to reduce it, but by fining the people who are are giving them money -  I don't agree with that," he said.

Mark and his wife Dolores said they've noticed panhandlers have become a lot worse in the past few months. They think fining people who donate makes sense because they are just as dangerous.

"I think it's good because that person could stop and I could crash into that person because they had to stop to give," Dolores said.

The ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.