Clergy to protest panhandling ordinance Monday with vigil

Mar. 24, 2013 @ 06:31 PM

Local clergy plan to violate the City of Durham’s anti-panhandling ordinance at 5 p.m. Monday.

Durham City Council passed an ordinance in December banning panhandlers from standing on medians while asking for money. Clergy including Rev. Sarah Jobe of Watts Street Baptist Church; Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an associate minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church; and Rev. Rhonda M. Lee, an Episcopal priest in Durham, will gather with supporters at the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and Mt. Moriah Road in southwest Durham, near the New Hope Commons shopping center. They will stand vigil and pray as they violate the ordinance “as an act of spiritual solidarity and public witness during Holy Week,” they announced Friday.

Open Table Ministry of Durham has started a petition at change.org to repeal Durham ordinance #14375, which prohibits sitting, standing or walking on medians as well as being on an access ramp. The petition also points out the ordinance calls for panhandlers to stand on a sidewalk on a one-way street, and at least 100 feet from a bridge. Donations must be accepted only from the passenger side on the right of vehicles, not from the driver.

Wilson-Hartgrove helped organize a public meeting at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church last week, which about 200 people attended, he said in an email. Wilson-Hartgrove is a member of the Rutba House, a Christian house of hospitality in the Walltown neighborhood.

He and other clergy and supporters want the city to rescind the ordinance and “reconsider how to address safety concerns for motorists without harming panhandlers” and to work with homelessness service providers and the faith community to develop a new ordinance.