A judge in Durham dropped criminal charges Wednesday against 14 people who were cited for panhandling. Charges were filed under a new ordinance that makes it illegal to beg for money in parts of the city.
Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey dropped the charges as part of the court’s effort to keep offenders out of jail under the condition they not violate the ordinance again and seek help with health, addiction, housing or employment issues.
The hearing was the most recent episode in Durham’s years-long struggle to grapple with homelessness and poverty on its streets. The city council passed an ordinance that became effective January and banned panhandling from medians and interstate exchanges.
One of Thursday’s defendants, Timothy Alred, had been picked up by police in July at an Interstate 40 off-ramp onto Highway 15-501, and spent a weekend in jail before a group raised $500 to pay for his bail.
Alred told the judge he’d been getting counseling at Lincoln Community Health Center, but that he’s continuing to sleep in the woods and that the city’s ordinance presents a hardship for him because panhandling is his only source of income.
“It makes it very hard to survive,” Alred said.
Activists, such as the Rev. Carolyn Schuldt, who directs Open Table Ministries and drove several defendants to court on Wednesday, have lobbied council members to roll back the new ordinance. The Homeless Services Advisory Committee, which was formed by city administrator's has made a similar recommendation.