HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – The city of Hampton will be putting up signs throughout the city to encourage would-be donors to reconsider giving to panhandlers and to direct those in-need to the right place.
Jamie Himes was standing on a street corner along Coliseum Drive Wednesday, asking for help. He said he recently got out of jail and no one will hire him because he’s a felon.
“I was panhandling at the time, so I got assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and stuff,” Himes says.
As part of a new campaign, Hampton crews will be putting up the signs at busy intersections, including along Coliseum Drive, directing those who need help and those who want to help to other resources.
The signs read, “Please don’t encourage panhandling! The city and local non-profits help the homeless.” A phone number for a Housing Crisis Hotline, 757-587-4202, is included on the signs.
“One, make people think about whether or not they want to give their money in this way, but also, make sure that people know that the city is doing outreach to homeless and has a program to actually support the homeless and then finally, if people are needing services, there’s a number they can call. It’s a hotline,” says city spokesperson Robin McCormick.
Himes says he collected more than $50 panhandling Monday.
Asked about the city’s plan, he said, “I don’t know why they should worry about not encouraging people because I mean, if I was in a better situation, I would help…There was a time when I did have a good amount of money and if I’d seen somebody panhandling, I’d give them some money,” Himes says.
Panhandling is considered a first amendment free speech activity. According to the city, more than thirty business owners have signed forms allowing police to ban panhandlers from the property if the practice goes against the rules of the business.
“I think that supporting people who are in need is a wonderful thing for folks to do. It is altruistic, it is helpful to society, but just maybe stop and think about where that money goes and what it is used for and how maybe you could be more effective with your donations to a non-profit,” McCormick says.
Wednesday night, council heard about the plans via a presentation.
“I certainly do not want people to be less compassionate, I just want people to be smarter and more efficient with their compassion,” says Assistant City Manager Steve Bond. “Trying to save someone’s life, not just a moment in their life.”