September 26, 2013
Area panhandlers are challenging Charlottesville’s soliciting ordinance and recently filed a motion with their attorney with hopes to get the city to change their current laws.
Currently, Charlottesville's ordinance bans soliciting an “immediate donation” within 50 feet of either side of the Downtown Mall's intersections. That's along 2nd and 4th Street. City Counselor Kristin Szakos says it is intended for everyone, not just the homeless.
“In the winter time when we have the folks with the Salvation Army collecting money with the bell, they can't do that near and ATM machine, they can't do that in a restaurant pay area, they can't do that in a crosswalk,” says Szakos. “And we hope that’s being enforced.”
But not everyone believes it is. The five homeless plaintiffs in the lawsuit believe it is just being enforced strictly against them and that their first amendment rights are being violated.
Michael Sloan was a part of the lawsuit and believes something has to change.
“Allow a person to panhandle as long as he does stay within the limits of the ordinance and have a reasonable ordinance,” says Sloan.
Jeffery Fogel is representing the homeless men in the case and says panhandlers normally don't ask for money from cars passing through the Downtown Mall.
“The reason is revealed by my client's deposition testimony which is that's not a lucrative way to make money on the Downtown Mall,” says Fogel. “You’re much better off with pedestrians.”
The City of Charlottesville sees this is a potential public safety issue, but Fogel disagrees.
“If the city was concerned as they claim to be concerned with public safety and about people stopping cars and that creating a potential danger to other pedestrians, why didn't they simply pass an ordinance prohibiting you from stopping cars?”
He thinks the city is targeting panhandlers and hopes the recent motion will get the ball rolling on changing the ordinance.
The city expects to hear back from a judge by the end of October, then they will know if they are moving forward with the lawsuit.