Greensboro City Councilmember Sharon Hightower brought up the need to do something about panhandling at the Tuesday, Sept. 21 City Council meeting.

Hightower said, “I want to touch on a subject that is going to make everybody upset, make everybody nervous, but listen, this has become an issue. I hear it from a regular every day. I see the emails come in on it. I go to community meetings and one of the first questions they ask what are we going to do about the panhandling, how are we going to get panhandling under control.”

Hightower added, “I think there has been an integration of panhandling and homelessness and quite frankly I don’t believe panhandlers are homeless.  There may be a few that are.”

Hightower said she talked to a woman who was panhandling with her four children and asked why the children were not in school and the woman told her she was from a different county.

Hightower ask City Attorney Chuck Watts to look into the panhandling ordinances to see how they could be tweaked and what peer cities were doing. She also suggested forming a panhandling task force, which is a case of deja vu all over again.

For those with good memories, this statement from Hightower was strange because in 2018, when the City Council spent four months passing and rescinding panhandling ordinances, holding public hearings on panhandling ordinances and hiring expensive legal consultants to write panhandling ordinances, Hightower voted against all the panhandling ordinances.

Or to be more precise in the end Hightower voted against all the panhandling ordinances.  The first go round in April 2018 Hightower voted for a panhandling ordinance whose chief proponent was Councilmember Justin Outling.  Hightower then became upset with Outling over a Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) issue and changed her vote on Outling’s panhandling ordinance.  The result of Hightower changing her vote was that for months the city had no ordinance covering panhandling at all.

In July after a summer of public hearings held by the consultants, the City Council finally voted again and passed the panhandling ordinance that Hightower had originally supported, this time without Hightower’s support.

Three weeks later in August 2018 the City Council passed the new panhandling ordinance that was the result of the summer of public hearings and had been written by the consultants and rescinded the ordinance that had been passed three weeks prior.  Hightower voted against that ordinance also.

At the Sept. 21 meeting in response to Hightower’s statements Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “I think you made a really good point that not all panhandlers are homeless.  The panhandling really is rampant.”

Vaughan noted that the city did have panhandling ordinances on the books but added, “On behalf of our police force though, the last time we had this discussion they came away with a bit of a mixed message on what was to be enforced and what wasn’t to be enforced.”