ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - In 2017, Roanoke City changed local laws to keep people off the medians. That includes panhandlers. But beyond that, city leaders wanted to do something more.
From Roanoke's medians, a new medium is being used to reach people in need. Roanoke City has installed the "Roanoke Cares" signs, affixing them to busy intersections where people have tended to congregate.
This initiative began back in June 2017 when city leaders amended the ordinance. It gave the green light for a law to bring penalties for those who "step onto a median of any public roadway open to moving vehicular traffic."
When it was passed, Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones told us it wasn't meant to reduce people's ability to get donations or sell items on the road, but more out of a concern for safety.
"We have had a number of pedestrian-related crashes over the last two years where folks have stepped either by way of the median strip into traffic or from the sidewalk curb line into traffic," Jones said in 2017.
But rather than simply hand out citations, city leaders wanted to lead people who may be panhandling to a helping hand. The signs encourage people to call 2-1-1 if they're in need.
"I mean I thought it was great," said Anne Marie Green, the head of Virginia 2-1-1.
The statewide service, based in downtown Roanoke, helps lead people to resources they may need, such as food, housing and medical care.
"Almost any question that you can think of that you need an answer to," Green said, "2-1-1 is going to be able to refer you."
She says since they began tracking it in August, they've had at least 32 calls from people who read the Roanoke Cares Sign. It's a sign Green said is a valuable tool being used.
We reached out to Roanoke City Police about this but were told officers don't keep track of citations written at certain intersections. Green said Roanoke County is also working to implement a similar initiative.
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