Proposed rules changes ease up on roadside begging

jwise@newsobserver.comFebruary 11, 2014 

— City officials appear ready to ease up a bit on “roadside solicitation” rules that critics have claimed “criminalize poverty.”

More roadsides would be open to solicitors – including panhandlers – though medians, bridge approaches and freeway entrance and exit ramps remain off-limits in rule revisions due for a vote at Monday’s City Council meeting. The vote could put the cap on a year-long controversy.

“I don’t think anybody’s thrilled with the outcome, which indicates to me it’s probably a reasonable compromise,” Councilman Don Moffitt said during a short discussion at the council’s work session last week.

Among other provisions, the revised rules ( allow:

•  Panhandling and other forms of soliciting on two-way streets;

•  Service animals to accompany disabled solicitors;

•  Solicitors to interact with drivers and/or passengers.

Among other provisions, solicitors may only:

•  Solicit from a paved sidewalk;

•  Solicit from vehicles in traffic lanes closest to the roadside;

•  Approach the passenger side of a stopped vehicle.

Controversy developed in February 2012, after the council adopted a ban on soliciting on medians and some other high-traffic, high-visibility roadside locations. The ban applied to charities seeking donations, campaigners seeking votes, costumed characters advertising real estate – and beggars asking for handouts.

City administrators and some council members maintained that the ban was a safety measure, but representatives from some agencies that serve the poor and homeless in Durham claimed it was an attempt to hide poverty, that the ban threatened the very survival of a vulnerable population.

Over the summer, the city-county Homeless Services Advisory Committee proposed some rule revisions and policy changes for dealing with panhandlers who broke the rules. Those proposals led to the revisions coming up for approval Monday.

City Manager Tom Bonfield and Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey put one policy change into effect last fall: giving panhandlers a chance to clear their charges by seeking and accepting help from social-service agencies instead of sending them to jail or charging them fines they could not pay. The first use of that policy led to 13 individuals getting help off the streets in December.

No one from the public spoke on the revisions at the council work session, and council members themselves had little comment except to suggest specific wording to include convertibles with their tops down under the term “enclosed vehicle.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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