Arlington "Most panhandlers are not homeless, and most homeless are not panhandlers," said Kathy Sibert, CEO of A-span, Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, located in South Arlington off Four-Mile Run. “Generally, homeless people in Arlington don't want to be seen. They are living in places they deliberately choose in order not to be seen. Homeless people aren’t proud of being homeless. They don’t hold up signs saying they are homeless.”
Panhandlers who claim to be homeless have become a regular sight on the medians around Arlington, particularly along the Glebe Road corridor and near the East Falls Church metro. It is almost as though there is a line drawn between Arlington and nearby cities. While all panhandlers are protected by the first and fourth amendments, Alexandrian police officers are less easygoing about panhandling, according to Carlos Lopez, an outreach worker for A-Span. But the real reason, Sibert says, is the fact that Arlington is where commuters come through on their way to work. It’s where people come through while driving their children to school. And it’s where people give money — lots of money — to panhandlers. People in Land Rovers and Audis see panhandlers holding up signs asking for help and hand out $5, $10, $20, and even $50. “Some day those people will drive by and the guy they gave money to won’t be there because he will have O.D.’d”, SIbert said.
“The best thing you can do for the panhandlers is not to give them money. If you want to help, go to the A-Span website and print out the Street Guide and give that to them,” said Ayana Bellamy of A-Span. “The Street Guide will help them find a place to stay or assistance in getting back on their feet. Giving them money just means they will stay on the street, and the more money you give, the more the street seems like a good idea to them.”
What To Do
What to do for the people you see asking for money on the street in Arlington, according to A-Span:
- Give them the Street Guide, printed out from the A-Span website, www.a-span.org
- Give them coupons to buy lunch or granola bars, if you must give.
- A-Span provides meals at Oakland Park and Gateway Park. From 5:30-6:30, bagged meals prepared by roughly 4,000 volunteers are distributed. Be a volunteer for this program.
- Prepare welcome home baskets for newly housed homeless.
- Support CoC organizations with donations of money or time.
- Form a group of volunteers at your school or religious organization.
Panhandlers have a firm foothold in Arlington because of the money they can get here. When the weather gets better, their ranks swell. Some residents of Arlington want them to go away, or resent the presence of people in town who either aren’t from here or don’t work to make a living.
Arlington resident Liz Thomas said she got on the bus with one of the homeless “vets” one day, and he pulled out his iPhone and talked to his buddy about where the panhandling was good that day. “That really bothered me”, she said, “because I know a lot of working people who can’t afford that phone.”
“There is no reason for a vet to be homeless,” said Sibert. “ If there is someone claiming to be a vet, and most aren’t vets, then it’s about alcohol or drugs. And most of the panhandlers aren’t local people: they come in from some other county to panhandle here because so many people hand out cash. Stop the cash. The panhandlers will just go away. Our goal is to get them off the street as fast as we can, because the longer they stay on the street, the more they get used to it and see that they can make a living that way and feed their addictions.”
According to Tony Turnage, Arlington County’s Homeless Services coordinator, there hasn’t been an upsurge in homeless vets over the past 12 years. The number has remained static, with roughly 22-25 homeless vets per year.
According to A-Span:
If the panhandler says he is a vet, he probably is not.
If she is in a wheelchair, she is receiving a disability payment.
Until he can’t make money on the street, he won’t stop panhandling.
The longer he stays on the street, the harder it is to leave.
Most panhandlers have a place to live and other income.
Any vet gets a subsidy and can probably get housed.
No child in Arlington is living on the streets (under a bridge or in a car).
The only time the police can arrest a panhandler is if they are a danger to themselves or a danger to someone else.
The money given to panhandlers is not going to food or shelter but substance abuse.