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Road signs in Waynesboro discouraging money to panhandlers

waynesboro panhandler sign
Photo Credit: Terry Short Jr. (Facebook)

Signs up now at intersections across Waynesboro are discouraging motorists from giving money to people standing in highway medians.

The only problem I have with this: that it wasn’t done sooner.

The issue mainly involves medians in the vicinity of Exit 94 off Interstate 64, the busy I-64/Rosser Avenue/Lew Dewitt Boulevard area.

The safety issues come from people walking out to cars at stoplights off the eastbound exit, where you have drivers coming off the interstate from 70 mph, and the groups of people who actually sit in the tiny grass strip between the southbound and northbound lanes of Rosser Avenue at the Rosser-Lew Dewitt Boulevard intersection.

A lawsuit filed a couple of years back forced the city to repeal an ordinance preventing panhandling outright, which, fine.

Actually, no, not fine.

Somebody’s going to get hurt because of this.

This is just common sense: people shouldn’t be standing or sitting in the road in a high-traffic area.

We’re lucky we haven’t already had something involving a serious car crash or an accident involving a car and a pedestrian.

We’re talking about the part of town that is, by far, the busiest in terms of traffic.

According to VDOT, the average annual weekday traffic at the Rosser/I-64 intersection is 31,000 vehicles a day.

Which is why the folks set up there.

You knew that, right?

Isn’t it odd that this is an issue nowhere near any of the churches that help the local homeless population, but at the interstate exit, in the commercial area?

This isn’t about homeless people. It’s so common as to be a trope in print and local-TV news to do investigations into panhandling teams that target high-traffic areas.

Panhandling can be, if not big business, worth the time and effort, assuming you do it right, and how you do it right is, you make sure to have people at all the busy intersections, pointing each way, and you have the hours of the day covered.

Nobody asks the person holding the sign if they’re actually whatever the sign they’re holding says they are.

Any interaction on the side of a road waiting for a stoplight to change is a few seconds at most.

You can’t vet whether or not you’re actually giving money to a disabled homeless vet father of three, or some guy who was handed a sign saying that who’s working with the guy at the next exit on a con.

There’s no serial number to scan, which, funny, if you’re stopping for lunch at a food truck, and you’re so inclined, there is paperwork that they have to make available for you to check out.

This is a guy on the side of the road with a sign, who, if he is a homeless vet father of three, there’s got to be more that we can do for him than give him a couple of dollars in change at the stoplight.

Which is why the city, on the new signs that it has installed, is encouraging people to call 540-932-0319 to learn more about how they can assist local agencies that work with the local homeless population.

Waynesboro, like many communities, has a wealth of resources for the homeless: an active Salvation Army unit, a dedicated homeless-relief agency, Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry, in addition to what individual churches do.

Those agencies are the first line of hand-up for people who are actually in need.

We can and need to do a better job at the next steps: substance-abuse education, job retraining, economic-development efforts that bring decent-paying jobs to the community.

These signs: just a first step.

Column by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press