Panhandling: A public nuisance or the enemy of economic development?

This entry was contributed by on May 24th, 2017 at 2:58 pm and is filed under , , .
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The Fayetteville City Council adopted an ordinance in 2008 that would sometimes permit panhandling and other times make it a class 3 misdemeanor. The ordinance made it illegal for an individual to panhandle in a median, on the shoulder of a roadway, at a bus stop, ATM, downtown or after dark.

Citations have been written, arrests have been made, although, largely the ordinance goes unenforced, cases are dismissed and fees are waived.

Panhandlers are not going to pay fines……who knew?

  • So why does this ordinance exist? Is panhandling a threat to public safety?
  • Are panhandlers unsafe while engaging in their fundraising endeavors?
  • Or do people just not want to look poverty in the face?

There is no data to suggest that panhandlers attack or intimidate motorists or pedestrians and there is no data to suggest panhandlers get injured while panhandling. If a motorist or pedestrian does not want to give to a panhandler, they just don’t. No one is hurt and the world still turns. There is obviously enough money handed out by pedestrians and motorists to make it a worthwhile endeavor for some panhandlers to keep coming back. It is a social covenant that nobody, including the recipient, has much affection for, but at times can be necessary.

I don’t know anyone who hands a panhandler a dollar expecting to change that person’s life based on their donation.  Will they go buy drugs or alcohol with that money? Maybe, but if you’re truly worried about that you don’t donate at all. The dollar does not come with strings or conditions it is merely a, “Hey dude, make yourself more comfortable for a minute, it looks like it really sucks to be you.”

Maybe that means buying a sandwich or maybe it means buying a 40 ounce of beer, either way, there are no questions asked and it is just something that happens and has always happened in any city.

The Fayetteville Observer reported, in July of 2016, that city councilman Chalmers McDougald, a pastor, believes that the panhandlers “seem to be more professional” and “just taking advantage of people.”

If that is the case, people would stop giving and because there is no dollar to be made, panhandlers would stop asking, and the social covenant dissolves.

The Fayetteville Observer also reported that former Police Chief Harold Medlock stated that panhandling wasn’t going to end because of all the: “Bleeding hearts rolling their windows down after feeling guilty at church.”

Sound cold? Sure, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to it. What this statement illustrates more than some frostbite is law enforcement’s attitude toward panhandlers, many of whom are homeless.

15 Responses to “Panhandling: A public nuisance or the enemy of economic development?”

  1. Hannah Denise Grindstaff

    Considering I’ve been grabbed a s harassed multiple times by ppl panhandling, I think something should be done. I’m all for helping the homeless and ppl in need but Fayetteville made me cold hearted and less likely to give anything if I have it. Being grabbed, shoved into your car or having someone jump in your car, makes you a little less in hearted.

    • Michelle Bir

      That sucks. I would venture to guess that your incident was more of the exception and less the rule. Lawmakers and local police don’t allege that this is the reason for the ordinance. It’s likely the ordinance was in effect when this happened to you, and it did nothing to protect you, which is more of the point of my blog post. There isn’t a lot of data to support that this happens regularly or to many people at all. If someone has the propensity for violence and wants to attack someone they will use panhandling as an excuse to get closer in proximity to you. They will do it whether they are actually panhandling or not, not all panhandlers are violent criminals.

      • Hannah Denise Grindstaff

        Yeah I’m not saying all are but on at least three different occasions, it was. When I moved and was working in Durham, I gave a panhandler some money and they said thank you and have a great day. I was surprised. I was expecting some negotiating for more money or worse. I hate that I feel that way about it now, but the ordinance seems like maybe they just don’t want ppl to see how ppl are affected by the economy in Fayetteville. Hell, I was working multiple jobs with different licenses that I went to school for and couldn’t keep my head above water.

        • Michelle Bir

          I’m not at all advocating for panhandling or that people should give money to these folks. I don’t, I have plenty of people in my life struggling that I’d rather hand that dollar to. What I’m pointing out is the ordinance is ineffective, it costs taxpayers money every time they jail someone over it, and it’s more of an eyesore to folks than anything else. If more people shared your experience with it, it would be banned outright.

  2. Rob Robbers

    Working downtown I get hit up pretty much everyday, and I’ve had multiple times its almost turned violent when I didn’t have any money to give. I’ve seen a family with small children have garbage thrown at them by a group of homeless because the father told the had 3 children to feed. Its hard for me to see it as a non-issue…

    • Michelle Bir

      That’s interesting, and sort of proves my point. It’s illegal under the ordinance to panhandle downtown. How effective is that ordinance?

      • Rob Robbers

        Do you have a better suggestion by chance to help the issue or?

        • Michelle Bir

          Anything is better than an ordinance that is completely ineffective and costs taxpayers money, did you even read the blog? It does nothing. Andrew Barksdale wrote an article last summer detailing what the ordinance has done to help solve the problem (nothing). Addressing the causes of poverty, job accessibility, better public transportation, all factors that would curb poverty. Not all panhandlers are homeless, I know many homeless people who don’t panhandle, but I don’t want to be in the business of making blanketed statements based on a panhandlers attire as compared to my own……

          • Rob Robbers

            So we’re in agreement that’s it’s an issue and the current solution isn’t working…what do you suggest?

          • Michelle Bir

            Please read above….starting at “addressing…”

          • Michelle Bir

            Do you really think that jailing panhandlers is the best possible solution?

  3. I was born and raised here, and have seen the decline of this city in many ways. Fayettenam gets everyone else’s homeless because this city is so homeless friendly. And yes, I can tell you from professional and personal experience that there are a lot of them that are violent. But the ridiculous law of fining the homeless should be abolished. As a matter of fact, I think there should be a law fining anyone for giving the homeless “money”. Food, sure. Clothes, sure. Money only encourages more and more homeless to take to the intersections and cause distractions to already overly distracted drivers.

    • Michelle Bir

      Hi Jay,

      Yeah, I can’t totally say I disagree with you. I’ve met people from all over the country that have told me they came here because they heard how well the homeless are treated here. One couple I met was from Ohio, they were in tent city over off of Rowan. That’s the furthest I met. I understand where you’re coming from on the fining people for giving money, makes a lot of sense. But for me, through a philanthropic lens, I would hate condemning people for trying to be generous with others in the current climate of modern America. If that makes sense.

  4. Michelle Bir

    It’s not a simple issue. I’m not advocating for anyone to give anything to panhandlers, I just think criminalizing it doesn’t serve the public. Andrew Barksdale wrote a terrific article about the ordinance that details its effectiveness. The link to it is in the blog post itself, that’s worth a read too.