Fayette County

Lexington’s frustration with surge in panhandling spills onto Facebook

An image from the Facebook page created in opposition to panhandlers.
An image from the Facebook page created in opposition to panhandlers.

Some Lexington residents are venting their anger at panhandlers through a Facebook page featuring photos of beggars.

The public page “Panhandlers of Lexington Ky” was launched sometime in March after the state Supreme Court struck down a 2007 Lexington ordinance prohibiting panhandling on public streets or intersections because the law violated the First Amendment.

The Facebook page, which doesn’t reveal the identity of the person who created it, has collected 3,200 followers and more than 3,000 likes. The page’s self-proclaimed purpose is to “bring awareness to a problem that is getting worse in Lexington. Career panhandlers are now on just about every corner.”

The page’s administrator declined to comment.

The Facebook page is active, with 11 posts between Wednesday and Thursday alone featuring photos of panhandlers holding signs and roaming the streets. A typical post features a photo of a panhandler taken from someone’s car, as was the case on May 16 outside Sav’s Chill on Limestone. The photo appears to show four panhandlers working together, with one woman sitting on the ground behind a lamppost.

“The fat chick should be walking around and exercising,” Thomas L. Wilson wrote in response to the photo.

“Good luck getting the police to do anything about it,” William Grayson wrote.

On May 4, Christy Howell Sweeney shared two stories on the Facebook page of panhandlers running her down, trying to get money.

“Shoot them,” Tom Wilson wrote in response to Sweeney’s stories.

“I’m going to start pepper-spraying them,” Jesse Hurst said.

The frequency of posts suggests that panhandling remains a problem in Lexington despite a new job program launched in late April by Mayor Jim Gray. The program involves picking up panhandlers in a van and taking them to a job site to earn $9 an hour.

The Urban County Council is expected to vote May 25 on the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Ordinance, which would prohibit panhandlers and pedestrians from approaching cars at major intersections.

Lexington police declined to comment on this story but have continually urged citizens to call 911 if they feel threatened by panhandlers or placed in danger.

“This website does not reflect our compassionate community,” said Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city. “Our city invests almost $6 million a year in programs that help people experiencing homelessness or those living in extreme poverty. And we are now offering people asking for help on Lexington’s street corners a hand up with our ‘End Panhandling Now’ van.”

Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso