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When panhandlers ask for money, this city’s van drives them to job sites instead

The city of Lexington is launching a new jobs program that will pick up homeless people and panhandlers each day and take them to job sites in an effort to reverse a surge in panhandling.

Mayor Jim Gray was to announce the new program at a news conference Tuesday. The jobs program is modeled after a program in Albuquerque, N.M. A van will travel to areas frequented by homeless people or panhandlers, pick them up and take them to a job site. They will be paid at the end of the day.

The new jobs program is part of a multi-pronged effort that the city is deploying in response to a surge in panhandling in recent months.

The “End Panhandling Now!” van will be operated by New Life Day Center, according to a news release. With approval from the Urban County Council, the city plans to donate the van to the organization. Workers will earn $9 an hour.

In addition, instead of giving change to panhandlers, Gray encouraged residents to give to LexGive.com, which will help support the jobs van. The United Way’s 2-1-1 program is administering LexGive and offers free resource referral to those needing help.

In February, the state Supreme Court struck down a 2007 Lexington ordinance that prohibits panhandling on public streets or intersections, saying it violated the First Amendment. Since the ordinance was tossed, the number of people asking for money on Lexington streets and complaints about panhandling has skyrocketed, Lexington police and council members say.

Last week, Lexington officials announced that the city is stepping up police patrols in downtown Lexington and is fast-tracking an ordinance that would focus on pedestrian and traffic safety to replace the ordinance that was struck down earlier this year. That ordinance will be discussed at a May 2 meeting of the Urban County Council General Government and Social Services Committee.

The city also is also stepping up a campaign encouraging people not to give to panhandlers. Instead, people should give to those social service groups that serve the homeless. The city has printed thousands of fliers encouraging people not to give to panhandlers. Gray has said that a more targeted marketing campaign is in the works.

In the next few weeks, the city will erect signs at intersections asking people not to give cash to panhandlers. There also will be information in LexServ bills and through public service announcements.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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