Every year our Police Department receives hundreds of calls related to panhandling. The calls range from traffic issues to concerns about the person who is panhandling to fears about a suspicious person at an intersection.
We discourage people from giving cash to individuals who panhandle. While many of you may get a good feeling by providing money, the reality is that people who panhandle often require more resources than small amounts of money. Donations of cash will not help solve the underlying reasons why someone panhandles. Directing individuals in need to county-provided resources is much more effective in helping them find the long-term, sustainable assistance they require.
The good news is we have many services and staff dedicated to help those in need.
Here are some important things to know about our 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 people who are panhandling commit traffic offenses or engage in criminal activity.
- If you witness someone 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 can refer people who panhandle to available county human services, but cannot force them to receive services.
Who Are Panhandlers?
- Though not all people who panhandle are experiencing homeless, they may need critical services including food, shelter, employment, financial assistance, and behavioral health and medical care.
What Can You Do?
- Refer people who are panhandling – 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 if you encounter someone who may be in need.
- Consider making a donation or volunteering for one of our nonprofit community partners dedicated to assisting our residents in need.
- Connect with Volunteer Fairfax, as it mobilizes people and resources to meet regional community needs.