Asking for money along road a means of survival

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 10:45 PM

Timothy Dean said he’s applied to work at multiple fast-food restaurants as well as big-box stores, but on Tuesday, he was standing in the median of Mount Moriah Road, holding a sign and asking for money.

“I can’t find a job because everyone does background checks,” said Dean, 52, who was convicted in 1991 of second-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping. He said he was falsely accused, but accepted a plea agreement on the advice of his attorney. He was imprisoned for 10 years, and is now registered as a sex offender.

Background checks hinder his ability to get a job, he said. Soliciting nets him about $15 per day, he said, which helps him pay rent at a motor lodge. He also receives federal support for food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

He said a family member owns a subcontracting business, and has employed him previously. That family member helps him when he’s short on money for rent, he said. He said he solicits for money to survive.

He has a permit from the city that was clipped to his brightly colored vest on Tuesday. He was soliciting from a median near the New Hope Commons shopping center. The median is a better location than on the side of the road, he said, because drivers don’t have to reach across the passenger seat.

“I’d rather do this legally than get locked up,” Dean said.  “I was short last week, and my brother asked me, ‘You been out there holding that sign?’” he added.

Following a vote by the Durham City Council on Monday, roadside solicitation from the median of city roadways will no longer be permitted starting 30 days from the adoption of the ordinance, which will be in January. The ordinance limits roadside solicitors to sidewalks.

According to a memorandum to city leaders, roadside solicitation includes actions to get the attention and a response from drivers in order to sell goods and services, and for charitable contributions, advertising, panhandling, and other activities. City leaders also did away with a requirement for roadside solicitors to register annually with the city and pay a fee.

This year, the city has issued 112 permits and collected $2,240, according to an email message from Amy Blalock, a spokeswoman for the City of Durham. That’s up from 96 permits issued last year, 97 in 2010, 67 in 2009, 48 in 2008, 64 in 2007, and 71 in 2006.

Bazel Hayes was soliciting for money from a median on N.C. 55 on Tuesday. He said he’s a U.S. Army veteran who has also held other jobs previously in the private sector. He said he had a major stroke, which affected his speech.

Hayes said he now lives with his sister, and works to pick up trash along N.C. 55, N.C. 54, and other Durham roads.

“I got to do something with my life,” he said. “People need money, food.”

He said soliciting from the side of the road, instead of from the median, doesn’t work.

“Right here, that’s the best way – people give me money and food,” he said.

Patrice Nelson, executive director of Urban Ministries of Durham, said she believes that many of the roadside solicitors in the city in camps in the woods, while only some of the homeless people served by the nonprofit solicit from the roadways.

Nelson said she tends not to give money to people soliciting from the median because she wants to encourage people to come to get connected to housing as well as other support services at the nonprofit. Those services are needed to help get them into permanent housing, she said.

“It is more productive to have people connected to health care, counseling, employment opportunities, and it is harder to do that when they’re in the medians,” Nelson said.

The Rev. Carolyn Schuldt is the chaplain and executive director of Open Table Ministry, an organization whose work involves forming relationships with people who are homeless or who live in poverty.

The organization provides items such as food, clothing and blankets, according the group’s website, http://opentableministry.com.

“Most of them are homeless,” Schuldt said of the city’s roadside panhandlers. “There are a few that have housing (and) they struggle to make their rent payment, but the vast majority are homeless and live in tents in woods surrounding the local shopping centers. There are few that stay at local shelters.”