NC city makes it illegal to give panhandlers cash through your car window

NC city makes it illegal to give panhandlers cash through your car window
Panhandlers can find most of what they need, including food and shelter, at a local charity. Money from panhandling often goes for drugs and alcohol, say experts. (Credit: Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - One North Carolina city is trying a controversial new approach to thwarting rampant panhandling at busy intersections: Fine the well-intentioned people who give panhandlers money through car windows.

The Fayetteville City Council recently passed such an ordinance, banning vehicle occupants from giving items to pedestrians on the side of the road, reports the Fayetteville Observer.

Some city leaders say the law is less about panhandling and more about pedestrian safety and keeping traffic moving along the busiest of streets, reported Spectrum News. Either way, Fayetteville Police now have authority to issue civil citations for violations, with a written warning for the first offense, $25 fine for the second violation and $100 for the third,reported the Observer.

Enforcement of the ordinance has not yet begun, media outlets report. The city first intends to put up signs as part of a public education campaign, reported CBS17. The ordinance will not apply to parking lots or private roads, the station reported.

The ordinance is modeled after one adopted by Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. It prohibits the passing and receiving of any item from any occupant of a vehicle that is located in a lane of travel on the roadway, reported the Charleston City Paper.

However, that ordinance didn't stop panhandling in the city. Instead, the panhandlers began sitting or lying down on sidewalks along major tourist thoroughfares in the city, media outlets report.

The Charleston City Council responded to that development in mid April, with yet another ordinance that bans sitting or lying down on sidewalks along King and Market streets in the heart of the commercial district between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m., reported the Charleston Post & Courier.

Panhandling from medians is rampant in large Carolinas cities like Charlotte, particularly at exchanges along interstates. At least two traffic fatalities along Charlotte interstates have been linked to panhandling in the past two years, according to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol says interstate exchanges are the jurisdiction of the city and it cannot intercede. Meanwhile, Charlotte city officials say they cannot stop the practice, because the panhandlers are exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Currently, Charlotte only regulates "aggressive panhandling," specifically when it involves people who are standing in line at an ATM or outside an uptown business.

Charlotte community leaders recently launched a campaign discouraging people from giving to panhandlers, but it's unclear if the effort has had any impact. Experts say most of Charlotte's panhandlers ask for money to feed addictions and are not actually homeless.

Fayetteville city leaders have been sensitive about their new ordinance being referred to as a panhandling regulation. Instead, they are promoting it as a safety issue, reported WRAL.

City Councilman Bill Crisp told the Fayetteville Observer that people wouldn't give a panhandler $1 if they knew they might be fined $25. "There has to be some deterrent to giving them money," he was quoted saying.

Panhandlers in Fayetteville have complained bitterly about the new ordinance, saying it violates their rights, according to media outlets.

"If somebody is willing to donate and help somebody that's trying to do what they can, as opposed to robbing and stealing and boosting...yeah, I think it's ludicrous," panhandler Jessica McPhaul told TV station WRAL.

"Nobody gives us money anymore," Craig Kennedy told the Fayetteville Observer last week. He said he has been living on the streets a decade, the newspaper reported. "When I first came out here, everything was great."