Special investigation about panhandling in Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - You see them all over Richmond, people begging for money. But panhandling isn't just a city problem!

One Chesterfield man said he wants something done about an increase in panhandlers in the county.

Panhandlers have been spotted everywhere from Brandermill to Midlothian. But unlike Richmond, there's no county ordinance banning street solicitations.

One man said there should be.

Each panhandler has their own story, we asked one why the county is so appealing. He said Chesterfield has greener pastures.

At just 20 years old, Theron Dodd travels the country on your dime.

"Saw the Grand Canyon, it was neat," said Dodd.

His message is loud and clear.  On this day, he did pretty well in a short amount of time.

"Probably around $40.00," said Dodd.

$40 in handouts, in less than two hours. He buys what he needs.

"Food and just got some new shoes the other day," said Dodd.

Dodd has held up his sign on Richmond city streets, but said Chesterfield has less competition.

Dodd said he knows he may be an eye-sore.

"A lot of people are sick and tired of it I think," said Dodd.

Lee Whritenour is.

"The majority of reasons people live in the suburbs is to escape the vagrancy and plight of the general city," said Whritenour.

Whritenour said he's seen more panhandlers since the recession along Hull Street near Brandermill.

"I've actually contributed before, the first couple of times I saw them. Then I realized this might be a full time job for these individuals, you know, tax free income," said Whritenour.

Right now, Chesterfield does not have a panhandling ordinance like Richmond, and there's no future plans to put one on the books.

Police enforce the right of way law, which means you can't step foot into traffic.

"There is no way to say it's safe in the roadway," said Corporal George Fisher with Chesterfield Police.

But Fisher said some homeless push the envelope.

"They would literally step off the street corner, walk up to a car window that may be up and they'll approach it kind of in an aggressive fashion," said Fisher.

Last year, Chesterfield police arrested 14 panhandlers for stepping into the street, a traffic violation. The number is down this year to 10 arrests so far.

Since it's a traffic violation, there's no jail time just a fine. No more than $100 for each offense.

Fisher said the vast majority don't even show up for court.

"A lot of the homeless individuals that are doing this, they know they need to move on. They've pushed their welcome wagon as far as they can go," said Fisher.

Whritenour wishes they'd leave the county altogether.

"It's a distraction to drivers because they're looking at them when they should be looking at the road while driving," said Whritenour.

Dodd started panhandling last December.

"Just keep going till I find something some kind of job somewhere, something that interests me," said Dodd.

After what appears to be a food donation, Dodd put on his backpack, gearing up for his next stop.

"Going down to Greenville, South Carolina.  Hitchhiked here, probably hopefully leaving on the train," said Dodd.

He wasn't planning on spending his earnings on a train ticket.

"Boxcar usually," said Dodd.

There are alternatives to giving cash to panhandlers.

Homeward, an organization that works to prevent homelessness, suggests you instead make donations to programs that help people in crisis.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.

Homeward, the Greater Richmond region's planning and coordinating agency for homeless services, today published the "January 2011 Snapshot of Panhandlers" from its 13th Winter Point-in-Time Count. The twice-yearly census provides a snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single day.  Previously published results revealed 1,102 people in the region experiencing homelessness on January 27, 2011.  New information provides detailed data on the 12.4% of adults who indicated that they had gotten money in the past year from "panhandling or asking strangers for money."

"Homeward wanted to find out more about the connection between panhandling and homelessness.  While we know that not all panhandlers are homeless, we also know that only a small percentage of adults experiencing homelessness panhandle," notes Kelly King Horne, Executive Director of Homeward.  "Community members are often curious about how they can help people in crisis.  Information on panhandlers experiencing homelessness will help to break down stereotypes and guide service providers to reach out to those in need more effectively," continues Horne.

Using January 2011 data, Homeward investigated whether there were differences between single adults experiencing homelessness who reported "panhandling or asking strangers for money" and those who did not. While they tended to be similar in terms of their gender, race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, and the length of time they had lived in the Richmond area, there were several differences between the two groups.  Panhandlers experiencing homelessness were:

·     More likely to have served time in jail and/or prison (90.4% vs. 73.8%)

·     More likely to report being homeless before jail/ prison (among those who had served time; 56.0% vs. 30.4%))

·     More likely to report being homeless after jail/prison (among those who had served time; 68.0% vs. 46.8%)

·     More likely to report ever having an alcohol problem (66.7% vs. 46.7%)

·     Less likely to report being in recovery for alcohol problems (for those who had ever had an alcohol problem; 61.1% vs. 78.8%)

·     More likely to report ever having a substance abuse problem (63.0% vs. 49.4%)

·     More likely to report ever having a mental health problem (50.6% vs. 29.7%)

·     More likely to report have a long-term disability (63.4% vs. 48.3%)

·     Less likely to be employed (8.5% vs. 19.7%)

·     Less likely to have been homeless only once in the past three year (31.3% vs. 42.9%)

"It is clear from this Snapshot, that our neighbors experiencing homelessness have complex needs. Our community does not have enough permanent supportive housing, low barrier recovery programs, or other services needed to help every person who needs help today.  As we prepare for the winter season and increased demand for shelter and services among single adults, this data can guide our community to develop the resources needed to help people in crisis access stable housing," declares Horne.

People interested in alternatives to giving cash to panhandlers can refer to www.homewardva.org and download the Street Sheet, a resource listing immediate services for people living on the streets.  On November 17, Homeward will host the Dominion Project Homeless Connect, a mega service fair in which volunteers work one-on-one with people in crisis to help them get the services they need.  If you can't volunteer on the day of the event, please consider one of the following ideas:

·     Run a toiletry drive so that each person who seeks services at Project Homeless Connect can receive a care package at the end of the day.

·     Connect with another agency working to change the story for our homeless neighbors. http://homewardva.org/node/63

·     Fund services that are already working for our community.  http://giverichmond.guidestar.org/

In addition to performing a count of people experiencing homelessness, individuals also completed a detailed survey conducted by local volunteers.  Answers to the 70-question survey are used to obtain specific information on how to better respond to the issue of homelessness.

The primary sites for the count and survey include 17 homeless service providers and the weekly lunch program at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond.   The lunch-time surveys included a resource fair with medical screenings, benefits information, and free haircuts. The point-in-time count was also conducted in secondary areas in the City of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico in cooperation with local social services and law enforcement agencies and area shelter staff.

About Homeward

With approximately 1,100 homeless children, single adults and families at a given point in time in Greater Richmond, Homeward is the regional catalyst to research, report and coordinate resources for people experiencing homelessness.  In collaboration with regional partners in the City of Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, New Kent, Powhatan, Charles City and Goochland, Homeward facilitates service provider trainings, coordinates client resource fairs, and conducts twice yearly point-in-time counts of those at-risk and who are currently experiencing homelessness. In 2008 Homeward launched the Ten Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in the Richmond Region. For more information on Homeward, visit www.homewardva.org.