GREENSBORO — Due to an odd and complicated series of events Tuesday, the city now has no ordinance governing panhandling, aggressive or otherwise — at least temporarily.
And it happened despite a majority of council members voting in favor of such an ordinance.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted 5-4 to uphold an ordinance it passed last month banning aggressive panhandling, including using harassing language or blocking the sidewalk. Advocates for the homeless have called the ordinance discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Councilman Justin Outling and Councilwomen Marikay Abuzuaiter, Nancy Hoffmann and Tammi Thurm voted to keep the ordinance.
Councilwomen Sharon Hightower, Yvonne Johnson, Michelle Kennedy and Goldie Wells voted against it.
Hightower, who voted in favor of the ordinance in April, asked the council Tuesday to take a new vote because she changed her position.
The ordinance still passed Tuesday even without her support.
But it needs a second vote, either June 5 or June 19, because the ordinance didn’t receive a “supermajority.”
So that leaves the city without a panhandling ordinance even though the council has approved one twice in the last three weeks.
Hightower and other council members who opposed the ordinance wanted the council to table the issue altogether while the city works on ways to solve the underlying problem of poverty and homelessness.
They worry that people don’t want to be confronted with issues of poverty, race and homelessness. They said it targets panhandlers, the only demographic that uses aggressive solicitation tactics.
But a passionate Outling explained that the ordinance doesn’t ban panhandling, only aggressive tactics that some panhandlers use to solicit money.
People don’t want to be asked for money while they’re walking down Elm Street? “Too bad,” Outling said. The ordinance doesn’t stop that practice, he said.
But “we should not allow someone to be harassed while they’re being asked for money,” he said.
The saga over the ordinance began April 24, when the council voted to get rid of the old panhandling ordinance. It required panhandlers to undergo background checks and apply for licenses.
The new ordinance, which the council passed at the same meeting, bans a range of aggressive activity, including physical contact, threatening gestures, blocking the sidewalk and soliciting people waiting in line or within 20 feet of a teller machine.
Several speakers Tuesday, including members of a new group called the Homeless Union of Greensboro, have actively opposed the ordinance. They said the council wants to regulate panhandling to criminalize poverty.
Abuzuaiter, like Outling before her, said this is not about banning people from asking for money. It’s about banning tactics that scare people.
“I don’t believe any of us (on the council) want to target the poor,” she said.