Lexington has added signs to major intersections encouraging people not to give to panhandlers. The signs are part of a much broader effort to curb panhandling after a February state Supreme Court decision ruled the city’s ordinance banning begging on public streets and sidewalks was unconstitutional.
The “change the way you give” signs have been installed at 46 intersections, Lexington officials said.
The signs encourage would-be donors to give to Lexgive.com. Money donated to Lexgive.com will be used to pay for a new program that picks up panhandlers and takes them to city-sponsored jobs twice a week.
The city also passed a new pedestrian and traffic safety ordinance to replace the ordinance that was struck down. That ordinance — which will take effect July 24 —would prohibit panhandlers from walking into traffic to solicit donations at 75 major intersections.
City officials said they saw a surge in panhandling after the February state Supreme Court decision. Mayor Jim Gray and Lexington council members have said they were inundated with complaints from constituents over the number of people asking for help on the city’s sidewalks and streets. Many of the people begging for money were not homeless, city officials have said.
“Lexington is a giving, caring community. People’s first instinct is to try to help when they see a panhandler on the curb. But there are better ways to help than giving panhandlers change,” said Polly Ruddick, director of the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention. Ruddick cautioned that cash given to panhandlers can be used to support alcohol and drug addictions.
Lexington Police and emergency responders have seen a surge in recent weeks and months in the number of people overdosing on synthetic marijuana, sometimes referred to as serenity. The synthetic drug has become increasingly popular with the city’s homeless population.
So far approximately $800 has been given to Lexgive.com, Ruddick said.
The signs are now up on city-controlled streets where panhandling is popular. But many downtown streets are controlled by the state. The city has asked for but has not yet received permission to add the signs to state-controlled streets such as Main and Vine.