Group protests arrest of beggar in Durham

mschultz@newsobserver.comJuly 28, 2013 

— A small group of people walked around the Durham County jail and courthouse Sunday to protest a homeless man’s arrest they say was unnecessary.

Timothy Alred, who is about 50 years old, was arrested about 9 a.m. Friday for allegedly violating the city’s panhandling rules and placed in jail under $500 bail, according to attorney Scott Holmes.

The group had raised $306 toward his release by mid-afternoon Sunday.

Alred was on the right, or passenger, side of the Interstate 40 off ramp at U.S. 15-501 with a sign, said the Rev. Carolyn Schuldt.

He was on the grass, “where he always is,” said Schuldt, the chaplain of Open Table Ministry, which shares roadside meals and builds relationships with homeless people who live in the woods in Durham.

The city’s current ordinance bans begging on roadside medians and other high-traffic areas. City Manager Tom Bonfield and some Durham neighborhood leaders say the rules are meant to promote safety.

“We are not anti-homeless or anti-poor,” City Councilman Eugene Brown said this spring. Brown said the city had “numerous complaints” about panhandlers on medians who were overzealous, had dogs on medians and left trash behind.

But opponents say the rules criminalize poverty. A Homeless Services Advisory Committee subcommittee has recommended a revision it hopes the council will consider soon.

The proposed revision keeps the ban on median begging but would let people such as Alred continue begging at off-ramps and corners, said Holmes, a private attorney who said he got involved after seeing 30 people charged with panhandling violations since January.

“These laws that make it a crime to be people in need are really not who we are as a community,” he said.

The proposed changes also call for collaboration with police to get help for people in crisis, whether they violate panhandling rules or not, and expansion of a Community Life Court to connect violators with social services.

Alred worked as a deep-sea fisherman, Schuldt said. He injured his hands when a car and his bicycle collided. He came to Durham to get help for one of his hands that never healed and has applied for disability, she said.

The Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, associate minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham’s Walltown community, led about 20 people in Sunday’s walk around the jail and courthouse, across the street from the Durham Performing Arts Center.

The group supporting Alred does not have a name, Wilson-Hartgrove said.

“We don’t want to form anything new,” he said, “because we want this (current ordinance) to go away.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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