Predatory Panhandling: A Growing Public Safety Concern


by Audrina Bigos

 CHARLOTTE, NC -- In-your-face tactics, hounding, intimidation: all signs of predatory panhandling.

It's when those begging won't take "no" for an answer, and local officials say it's a growing public safety concern in our area.

Aggressive panhandling is spreading from Uptown Charlotte to the suburbs, and showing up on street corners, shopping plazas, and at banks.

"He kept knocking on my window in this parking lot, so I'm scared to keep coming to this Walmart," said Alysia Bragg, a North Charlotte resident.

Bragg says panhandlers outside of the University Area Walmart cross the line making loud, and sometimes repeated demands.

"Invading your privacy or shouting at you. That makes you feel very nervous!" said Bragg.

The problem is, it's hard to crack down on predatory panhandling. Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Captain Mike Campagna says anyone has a legal right to ask for money.

"But people also have the legal right not to feel intimidated, and not feel like they're harassed," said Campagna.  CMPD does arrest and charge panhandlers after multiple complaints.

If you feel threatened, cornered, or vulnerable, Campagna says, "Provide a good description, because it really is the problem-people that we need to focus on. We don't just want to throw a blanket over our entire population."

Charlotte City Ordinance is pretty specific: It prohibits asking for money face-to-face after dark. Begging on public sidewalks, public parks, and public transport is not allowed.

No one is allowed to ask you for money when you're standing in line.

The ordinance also prohibits soliciting cash within 20 feet of outdoor dining areas, ATM's, banks, transit stops, and taxi stands.

CMPD and local homeless advocates like Dale Mullenix say to watch out for those who've made this a profession.

"The assumption that all panhandlers are homeless people is incorrect," said Mullenix with the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte.

Mullenix and his staff did a little experiment--hitting Charlotte streets to find out who the real panhandlers are.  "What we discovered was about 90 percent of the people we saw panhandling: we didn't know them, and we know most of the homeless people in town," said Mullenix.

Campagna recommends helping local homeless organizations instead of giving hand outs that keep panhandling pros preying on the money spots around the city.

"When if you draw those conclusions that 'well this is what homeless people do', then people may be less willing to be helpful to organizations like ours," said Mullenix.

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