Johnny Adams held a cardboard sign asking for help as he stood at the intersection of East Maxwell and South Limestone streets during Thursday’s early-morning rush hour.
Adams, who is homeless, said he wouldn’t be standing at the busy corner near the University of Kentucky asking motorists for money if he was able to work. He has an injured arm. Getting work as a plumber —which he did for more than 20 years — is not an option.
“If I get $10 to $15, I’m happy. I put my sign away for the rest of the day. I’m not greedy,” Adams said.
Adams said he sticks to the sidewalk where panhandling is allowed under the city’s ordinance. He never taps on windows or steps into Lexington streets, where panhandling is prohibited under the ordinance — a law that is being challenged in front of the state Supreme Court on Friday.
If Lexington police come, they typically tell Adams to move along, he said.
But police have issued plenty of panhandling citations to people begging for money on Limestone, records show. Limestone had the most panhandling citations of any Lexington street in the past 21 months, according to Lexington police data.
Lexington police issued citations 95 times on Limestone from Jan.1 2015 to Sept. 28, 2016. More than 50 of those citations were at Limestone and Maxwell, where Adams was panhandling Thursday morning. Other citations along Limestone were near High and Vine streets downtown.
Overall, Lexington police issued 327 citations for violating the city’s panhandling ordinance in 2015. So far this year, Lexington police had issued 195 citations, according to data that ran through September.
Georgetown Street was second with 65 citations. Other top roads for begging violations include Maxwell Street with 56 and New Circle Road with 51.
On Friday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case challenging the city’s 2007 panhandling ordinance — which prohibits panhandling on city streets and at intersections. Lawyers for Dennis Champion, who was arrested in December 2014 for violating the ordinance, argue that the ban on begging violates Champion’s First Amendment right to free speech. The lawsuit also questions whether local governments have the authority to pass ordinances that result in jail time.
The punishment for violating the ordinance is a fine of no less than $50 or jail time of between 10 and 100 days.
Lawyers with the Fayette County Attorney’s Office have argued that the Urban County Government has a compelling interest in restricting where panhandlers can beg. That interest is ensuring public safety — for motorists and panhandlers alike. Champion has been arrested more than 125 times beginning in 2007 for violating the city’s panhandling ordinance.
Lexington police have been called a lot to investigate panhandling and begging complaints over the past 21 months, police data showed.
Although the highest number of citations are issued on Limestone, complaints about panhandling are centered around New Circle Road and the suburbs.
Police were summoned to New Circle Road 215 times to answer panhandling complaints. Many of those New Circle Road complaints —approximately 47 — were at the intersection of New Circle and Nicholasville roads.
The Lexington inner loop was the top street for panhandling complaints from Jan. 1, 2015, to Sept. 28, 2016. Broadway was second with 150 calls. Limestone was third with 102.
The data for complaint calls is less than perfect.
Lexington police have no specific code in their dispatch system for panhandling. Lexington police searched calls for service using “beg” and “panhandle” to generate the data about complaint calls.
Top 5 streets for panhandling complaints:
- New Circle: 215 complaints
- Broadway: 150
- Richmond Road: 97
- Maxwell: 88
Top 5 streets for panhandling citations:
- Limestone: 95 citations
- Georgetown: 65
- Maxwell: 56
- New Circle: 51
- Broadway: 45
Lexington Police data from Jan. 1, 2015, to Sept. 28, 2016.