Nine years ago, Fayetteville City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance regulating panhandling. The ordinance makes it illegal to panhandle anywhere in the city after dark. It prohibits panhandling in the downtown area, along busy roadways and within 50 feet of ATMs and outdoor dining areas. The law is rarely enforced and hardly ever prosecuted in the courts. Unlike Raleigh, Fayetteville doesn’t require that panhandlers be registered with the police. Police permits are designed to help identify panhandlers while also listing guidelines. Raleigh permits say there will be no aggressive begging and no blocking of traffic.
Fayetteville City Council believes it’s time it tightened regulations governing begging in public. “I’m troubled with panhandling; they’ve become more aggressive,” said Mayor pro tem Mitch Colvin. He would like to see the police given additional enforcement tools. The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing notes that “Most researchers and practitioners seem to agree that the enforcement of laws prohibiting panhandling plays only a part in controlling the problem. Public education to discourage people from giving money to panhandlers, adequate social services (especially alcohol and drug treatment) for panhandlers are the other essential components of an effective and comprehensive response.”
Fayetteville’s Downtown Alliance tried a different approach to deal with panhandlers in 2015. The organization put up drop boxes on lamp posts downtown where people could make donations to agencies that assist the homeless. It was not a resounding success in that many panhandlers are not among the homeless individuals who are seeking assistance. Jason is an Army veteran who lives in a small apartment provided by the VA. He’s turned down minimum wage jobs because, in his words, “I can make more money panhandling.” Jason knows and respects the law and has picked a spot on Ramsey Street at the I-295 off-ramp to do his begging. “I can make $130 on a good day,” he said.
City Councilwoman Kathy Jensen knows of Jason. She told her colleagues that he stands in an area that is just outside the city limits. “He’s usually there during morning drive and in the late afternoon,” she said. He catches a bus to return to his apartment after a couple of hours begging.
“Panhandlers are having a chilling effect on commerce,” said Councilman Jim Arp. “We need more aggressive enforcement.” He notes that panhandling is prohibited in the downtown area, and a police officer who walks a foot post attempts to shoo them off.
“It’s getting worse,” said Councilman Larry Wright. Retiring Councilman Bobby Hurst asked what other cities are doing to combat the problem. City Manager Doug Hewett said the administration would research the matter and report back to council with some ideas. It was Hewett who, as an assistant city manager several years ago, hosted the city’s now-defunct TV program called “Kaleidoscope.” It aired on FayTV-7. Hewett did a program in 2009 on panhandling rules that council now believes need updating.