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County launches initiative to discourage panhandling

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Published on: Thursday, September 19, 2013

By Donna Broadway

ROCKVILLE- On May 16, 2013, Mary Josephine Fish, a panhandler in Wheaton, succumbed to injuries after being hit by a van. Fish was struck after two cars collided following an unsafe lane change. Four months later, County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilman George Levanthal, community leaders and representatives from community organizations stood at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road where Fish lost her life to announce the “give a hand up, not hand out” initiative.

“In the vast majority of cases, people are using the money to support a number of problems that they have, whether it is alcohol, drugs, tobacco. The point is people who need help, we have an abundance of ways for them to get help from the county and giving money to panhandlers only keeps them on the streets, and on the street is not a place where they should be, it’s not safe and it’s not solving their problems; they’re panhandling, they’re not getting their problems taking care of,” said Patrick Lacefield, public information officer for Montgomery County.

Under the new initiative, donators have the option of texting a small donation of $5 to a nonprofit organization and the donated funds will be distributed to several county organizations. The money will be used to help people, whether it is for food, shelter, health care or to turn their lives around.

“In addition to improving the safety of those in the median strips and the drivers, we applaud the County’s efforts to harness the wonderful generosity of our neighbors,” said Susan Kirk, executive director of Bethesda Cares. “Montgomery County is a very giving and caring community. People respond to assist those they perceive in need. Now together we will work for long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes.”

Citizens will still be allowed to panhandle, as soliciting for food or money is protected by the First Amendment under free speech. Panhandling is also legal under Maryland law, but under Montgomery County law, panhandlers are not allowed to aggressively solicit. Panhandlers are not allowed to harass or block anyone from entering or exiting.

Anyone who wants to donate may do so by texting ‘SHARE’ on a mobile cell phone to 80077. Each text makes a $5 donation that will be added to the monthly carrier charge.  

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