Morrisville's beggars face ban

Police urge restrictions

Staff WriterFebruary 24, 2006 

MORRISVILLE -- Police say it's time to ban all begging in town -- so they can chase off a one-legged panhandler. And the town board is considering doing just that.

"It's becoming a problem," said Lt. Allen Rushing of the Morrisville police. "It makes some people uncomfortable."

So when the panhandler hobbled onto a grassy Cary Parkway median this week, police watched him closely as he stared quietly into cars idling at a stoplight.

Most drivers ignored him. Occasionally, someone would roll down a window and hand him a dollar bill or fill his palm with a bit of change. After a while, he affixed a worn dollar bill to one of his wooden crutches.

As he left, he declined to give his name or talk about the effort to push him out of town. He said he did not want to anger the police or embarrass his elderly mother.

He got Morrisville's police buzzing about begging last fall, after he hobbled into town and began hanging out in a median at the intersection of Northwest Cary Parkway and N.C. 54.

He worked the intersection only a few times every month, but drivers noticed. He was hard to miss in a town where pedestrians are unusual, panhandlers are rare, and the homeless population, advocates say, can be counted on one hand. Police estimate they have received an average of one call a month about the man.

Officers have tried to shoo him away without success. Rushing said the man knows that police can't touch him unless the town starts regulating begging.

"So I said, 'Well, we can fix that,' " Rushing said.

This month, Rushing asked the town's Board of Commissioners to outlaw most forms of begging, including roadside panhandling. The board could vote on the ban next month.

Under the regulations, Morrisville would become one of the toughest places in the Triangle to beg in. Cary and Chapel Hill also require panhandlers to stay away from the roads. Cary, Raleigh and Durham require permits to panhandle.

The Morrisville proposal has won quiet cheers from those in town whose hearts palpitate when a panhandler stands next to their car at a stoplight.

Among them: the mayor, Jan Faulkner, who locks her car's doors when she has to stop near the one-legged panhandler.

"I think it would be good to have an ordinance so the police can deal with these people," she said.

Others are less enthusiastic about a ban because it would be designed, at least in part, to make the more fortunate feel more comfortable.

"It's distressing," said Commissioner Jackie Holcombe, who gave the panhandler $1 on Tuesday. "But, I guess there's a part of me that understands."

Staff writer Toby Coleman can be reached at 829-8937 or tcoleman@newsobserver.com.

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