Vote on Durham solicitation rules pushed to Thursday

Feb. 18, 2014 @ 07:56 PM

City Council members put off until Thursday a decision on changing the “roadside solicitation” regulations that have drawn fire from some lawyers and advocates for the homeless.

The decision bought time for City Attorney Patrick Baker and his fellow lawyers to draft a further change to the rules, addressing solicitations on one-way streets.

Baker said he wanted to make it clear that panhandlers and other solicitors can deal with both the driver and any passengers in a vehicle, approaching it from either side.

Without it, the present draft in practical terms would limit solicitors approaching only from the right side, as they have to remain on the sidewalk.

City Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden said she also wants to discuss another potential problem, related to the possibility of solicitors setting up shop outside homes in residential areas.

She has raised that issue before, to little avail as Baker has questioned whether it’s legally possible to say people can’t panhandle near homes. But Cole-McFadden on Monday said her research indicates that at least one city has addressed the issue.

The postponement, however, brought criticism from Carolyn Schuldt, the Apex-based minister who’s spearheaded complaints about the rules package that city officials enacted last year to restrict solicitations.

“There are many folks that are really suffering as a result of this ordinance,” she said. “I’m concerned about the postponing and postponing. After a year, we should be able to come to some consensus and show some mercy to those folks who depend on begging for their sustenance.”

The 2013 rules package was meant to clamp down on solicitations from major-roadway medians and interstate exit ramps.

But it actually went further than that, barring solicitors from all but the one-way streets that in Durham are located mostly in the center city. Officials in response to the resulting complaints agreed to roll back some of the restrictions, allowing soliciting in more places while retaining the no-medians and no-ramps rules.

They also worked with judges and prosecutors to see to it that people charged with violations receive social services rather than a jail sentence.

Those moves haven’t necessarily won over critics like Schuldt. But city officials have signaled that they don’t agree loose limits on panhandling are the right answer to poverty.

Some of those who argue to the contrary are more interested in feeling better about themselves than about helping the poor, Cole-McFadden said.

“It ain’t about us, it’s about helping to transform the lives of people. And I’ve often wondered how they do it in Apex,” she said, prompting a more-or-less immediate walkout by Schuldt.

Mayor Bill Bell chimed in too, saying he has “some personal concerns about persons advocating for things in our city who don’t live in our city.”

“But that’s another point,” he added.

Durham officials historically are sensitive to criticism or tutelage emanating from Wake County, partly because of longstanding regional rivalries and also because of the differences in the demographics of the communities.

Apex, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, is about 80 percent white and 7 percent black; Durham is 45 percent white and 40 percent black. The Wake County town has a household median income roughly twice Durham’s and a poverty rate of 2.1 percent. Durham’s poverty rate at the time of the Census Bureau’s reckoning was 19.4 percent.

The Apex municipal code indicates that the town forbids begging on any public street without a permit, save on behalf of “any church, religious or charitable organization.” Durham city officials used to require permits, but did away with them last year.