Locals say panhandling is a big problem in Olde Towne

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Some people in Portsmouth are finding it hard to enjoy downtown because of the constant panhandling. Even local business managers say they have had to forcibly remove panhandlers from inside their business.

Sharon Salyer and her husband chose Portsmouth out of numerous cities to call home because of the downtown area, but they've encountered numerous issues when spending time there.

"As a woman, I feel like I'm a targeted demographic. The panhandling is especially bad once it gets dark and the taverns get revved up a bit," said Salyer. She added she's noticed when she's with her husband, they also are targeted.

However, panhandling is against the city code. It's something the Portsmouth Police have their Homeless Outreach Team working to stop. Officers do extra patrols, walk the streets and actively tell panhandlers they see to stop.

"When we have issues, especially downtown where our businesses are, we want to make sure we’re addressing those issues, because those issues then become the city’s issues and the businesses will say they no longer want to be there," said Det. Misty Holley.

Det. Holley said citizens have every right to tell panhandlers to leave them alone and can call the non-emergency police number if they need to. Calling the police is something Justin White, the manager at Longboards on High Street, has done multiple times.

"I've had to forcibly remove them, call the police; I've gotten into altercations - some of them physical - so it's definitely an issue," said White.

Longboards has outdoor patio seating, which White said makes customers more susceptible to panhandlers. Plus, panhandlers tend to ask the patrons to order alcohol for them, which is an ABC violation.

"They come up to the fence. This place is lovely and the next thing you know some guy is like, 'Hey you got change? Quarters? Dollars?'" said White.

Salyer said she never gives panhandlers money and unfortunately has grown accustomed to seeing them. However, she wants others to know there are better ways to help those in need.

"When you see them sober and then in evening you see them and they're intoxicated, you know there's a person in there who is being harmed," said Salyer.