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The Daily Tar Heel

Franklin Street business owners fear panhandlers deter customers

Neal, a panhandler on Franklin, sits in front of The Clothing Warehouse on April, 8 2015.
Neal, a panhandler on Franklin, sits in front of The Clothing Warehouse on April, 8 2015.

“If there are two dining options, and one dining option you have to walk through a sea of panhandlers, you’re going to decide on the other option,” Sup Dogs owner Bret Oliverio said.

“So, as a business owner, I instruct our managers to not allow that to go on in front of our restaurant.”

Panhandling is defined in two ways: passive and aggressive. The latter, as its name suggests, poses a much larger problem.

Aggressive panhandling is when a panhandler solicits money with actual or implied threats or menacing actions, and Oliverio said he believes it can be a real business killer.

But Neil Slater, who said he is a panhandler, said he has yet to see anyone aggressively panhandle. Slater also said he disagrees with the idea that panhandling negatively impacts businesses.

“I don’t see how it could affect their business,” Slater said. “There are people everywhere down here. It’s clearly not running people off.”

Furthermore, he said for those who panhandle it often feels as if the police comply more with business owners’ wishes than actual ordinances.

“An officer came to me one day and said a business owner called and complained about me leaning against a tree, and I’m like, I don’t see how that’s illegal,” he said.

Since 2012, in which there were 30 panhandling arrests, arrests decreased to just 16 arrests made in 2014. There have been seven arrests for panhandling in 2015, which is three more than this time last year.

While arrests are going down, some arrests are cited as other violations, such as an open container violation, as opposed to being solely a panhandling arrest, which might make numbers seem lower than they are, according to information provided by the Chapel Hill Police Department.

Lt. Josh Mecimore, spokesman for the police department, said another problem is that not all calls reporting panhandling result in an arrest because the suspected panhandler might not be at the scene when an officer arrives.

Oliverio said there must be a fundamental change in the way panhandling is treated to end it.

“You have the same people being arrested three or four times a week for the same offenses,” he said. “I’ve talked to the police, and I know they are doing everything they can. But something has to change, or the businesses are going to continue to be affected.”

Samantha Millisor manages the Walgreens at 108 E. Franklin St., where panhandlers often ask customers for contributions.

“We try to educate the customers and students that they don’t have to help the panhandlers because we see them and hear them all day, and we know what they are bringing in the money that the students are giving them to buy,” she said.

Meg McGurk, director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said in an email that the partnership encourages the community not to give money directly to panhandlers.

In 2007, the partnership spearheaded a campaign called Real Change from Spare Change to raise money for various charities that encourage street outreach such as Housing for New Hope.

But over time the program was boiled down to a public message encouraging people not to directly give to panhandlers, according to Jamie Rohe, coordinator for the Center for Homelessness.

Rohe said she hopes residents understand there are options outside of giving to panhandlers that will have a much larger impact in the long run.

“I feel that giving to panhandlers just fuels the panhandling market, and we don’t want to do that,” Rohe said. “We want people to end their homelessness because the services exist, and we want people to take advantage of those services.”

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But Rohe insisted that not all those who panhandle are homeless.

“A lot of people will equate panhandling to homelessness, and that’s just wrong and unfair,” she said.