HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Protesters gathered on Court Square in Harrisonburg on Tuesday to show their discontent with a proposed ordinance prohibiting pedestrians from lingering in certain medians in Harrisonburg.
Michael Snell-Feikema, an organizer of the protest, said the ordinance targets panhandling and criminalizes the homeless population.
"You see people that look like they've been sleeping out at night. It's disturbing and upsetting, and one reaction is to make it disappear," said Snell- Feikema. "But, that's not a solution."
The ordinance, which was presented to council in March by City Attorney Chris Brown, prohibits pedestrians from standing, sitting, squatting, or lying in seven medians around the city.
Brown said in an interview with WHSV last month that this ordinance was not a direct response to panhandling, but rather a safety measure.
"Really, it's a traffic safety issue, trying to minimize the chances of adverse interactions between pedestrians and motorists, or pedestrians being in the median and distracting motorists leading to automobile accidents," said Brown.
Brown explained that during the last three years, each of those intersections has seen an average of five or more motor vehicle crashes every year.
However, protesters on Tuesday believed the ordinance is just disguised as a safety measure, but is really an effort to remove panhandlers from the city.
"Right now, I just want people in Harrisonburg to send a message to city council that we don't want to go the direction of criminalizing the homeless," said Feikema. "Instead, we want to look at solutions that work."
Feikema suggested looking at more affordable housing to get the homeless off the street.
WHSV reached out to the city for comment about the Tuesday's protest, but they declined comment.
A public hearing about the ordinance is scheduled for Harrisonburg City Council's next meeting on April 23rd.