GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It's sad to say, but how many times have you seen someone standing on the side of the road, holding a sign, asking for money?
Whether you live in Winston-Salem, Greensboro or Burlington, most of us have experienced panhandlers. But not all those panhandlers are following the rules.
Rodney Burton, who owns a business in downtown Greensboro, is fed up with panhandlers. "They hang out across the street, they hang out in front of the store, on the corner."
Burton opened McGee Street Minimart near Elm Street in Downtown Greensboro eight years ago. He's dealt with panhandlers ever since. "A lot of people are scared of them so they try to quickly get down the street and get to wherever they're going rather than stopping in any of the other businesses.
Burton says they even follow his customers into the store asking for money.
In 2010, the city of Greensboro tightened its rules on panhandling, requiring anyone interested to hold a permit. But many believe the rules created an opposite effect."
"I think it actually made it worse because now you have people who actually thought this is OK for me to do so a lot of them became more brazen," said Burton.
Greenboro Police try to enforce the stricter ordinance, but they say most panhandlers aren't worried about being repeat offenders. "They know that if they receive a citation, that they can disappear for a while and come back later," said GPD Officer Jesse Hillis. "If they go to jail, a lot of times they understand that they'll be released on a written promise without having to serve any jail time."
If you see a panhandler problem, police suggest contacting law enforcement. They can make it a "problem location" and focus their efforts on that area.
But Burton isn't convinced. He says he thinks panhandlers have more rights than shop owners. "Police tell you sometimes that you can't make them leave off the sidewalk because it's a public sidewalk but then they're in front of your business running your customers off."
Making the problem difficult for police to prevent -- and for businesses, even harder to deal with.
Here are a couple rules to keep in mind:
- Panhandlers must be at least 100 feet from banks and ATMs.
- They need to possess a permit and wear it around their neck.
- And panhandlers can only be out during daylight hours.
Police tell us it's common for panhandlers to ignore the permit requirement and not even bother to apply for a permit.