Five months ago, when Lexington’s panhandling ordinance was deemed unconstitutional, the city scrambled for another solution. Two months ago, the “End Panhandling Now” van was unveiled to offer panhandlers a ride to $9-an-hour jobs.
As of July 10, 18 van runs had picked up 166 people, according to an update given to the mayor’s office.
These individuals have cleaned up hundreds of bags of litter at 13 sites designated by the city.
It seems this solution is, well, solving the problem.
The New Life Day Center sees positive results. The center, led by founder and director Steve Polston, operates the van. The center reported a 75 percent reduction in the number of panhandlers on streets. A survey by the center showed between 75 and 100 people panhandling in April, pre-van. Now, an estimated 15 to 20 panhandlers are on the streets.
The center shared that as an estimate, so the reduction could be less. However, it’s clear that the van is making a positive impact, and Lexington sites have been improved by the litter pick-up.
The van will now be coupled with an ordinance that took effect Monday. It bans jaywalking, standing in medians and approaching cars on Lexington’s major roads. This ordinance seeks to comply with the Supreme Court order by no longer outlawing begging, a form of speech.
But progress is not irreversible or 100 percent, and it can’t be sustained without support.
When the ordinance was overturned, panhandlers came out in force. If the van stops, they will likely return.
You can help keep the program running. Lexington started a fund-raising drive to support the van; so far, $800 has been donated. The city encourages donations rather than giving money directly to panhandlers, as noted by signs around the city.
If you want to best help those you pass on the streets while also helping them off the streets, you can donate at www.lexgive.com.