What You Need to Know About Panhandling in Fairfax County

Single outstretched hand.

In 2017, our Police Department has received approximately 2,100 calls related to panhandlers in our county, an increase over calls received in 2016. The calls range from traffic issues to concerns about the panhandler to fears about a suspicious person at an intersection.

Panhandling can be found in most areas of our county, generating many questions and complaints from our residents. While we may get a good feeling by providing money to a panhandler, the reality is that panhandlers who are truly in need require more resources than small amounts of money.

The good news is that our county has many services and staff dedicated to help those in need. But we need your help:

We encourage you to not give money to panhandlers.

Why? Because giving money to panhandlers encourages more panhandling. Donations of cash will not help solve the underlying reasons why someone panhandles. Here are some important things to know about Fairfax County’s approach to this issue:

What Are the Laws?

  • Asking for money is a protected act under the First Amendment.
  • Asking for money in public areas, including roadway medians, is not a violation of law.
  • The county monitors legal developments related to panhandling.

 

What About Public Safety?
  • Our police officers will intervene when panhandlers commit traffic offenses or engage in criminal activity.
  • If you witness a panhandler breaking the law, contact the Fairfax County Police Department. The emergency number is 9-1-1 and the non-emergency number is 703-691-2131.
  • Our police officers are very responsive and will take immediate action if a crime is being committed. Proactive community assistance with reducing criminal activity is invaluable.
  • Police officers refer panhandlers they encounter to available county human services, but cannot force them to receive services.

 

Who Are Panhandlers?
  • Not all panhandlers are homeless, but may be in need of food and other critical services.
  • However, many of the stories panhandlers use to solicit money are not true.
  • Some panhandlers come from outside our county or even outside Virginia.
  • Some panhandlers operate as part of organized, professional panhandling rings.

 

What Can You Do?
  • Refer panhandlers – or anyone you see who may be in need – to our county’s social services programs. We have a wide-range of services and housing resources. Provide them with this human services hotline phone number: 703-222-0880.
  • You can also make copies of this handout with information on where and how to obtain critical services, including food and shelter. Have a few copies in your car to give out when you come across a panhandler.
  •  Consider making a donation or volunteering for one of our nonprofit community partners dedicated to assisting our residents in need.

 

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