to:                  Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager

from:            Dwight Bassett, Economic Development Officer
Brian Curran, Chief of Police
Carlo Robustelli, Mayoral Aid

subject:      Council Petition on Challenges Facing Downtown

date:            November 24, 2008
REISSUED:   January 12, 2009


The purpose of this report to respond to a petition to Council made on June 25, 2008 regarding challenges to downtown, and to provide additional information.


This memorandum includes background information on past efforts to facilitate positive changes on challenges facing downtown.  Town Manager, Roger Stancil asked staff members Dwight Bassett, Carlo Robustelli and Chief Curran to meet and work to gather information to present to Council. The staff, including Police Attorney Terrie Gale, met with Coordinator of the Partnership to End Homelessness, Carson Dean and Assistant Director of the Downtown Partnership, Meg McGurk to discuss and gather information.

The group discussed various reports and documents that address the current downtown issues and would be appropriate to present to the Council, as follows:

The Report of the Homelessness Task Force Report (January 2008) shares a number of statistics on student attitudes and knowledge of panhandling in downtown.

The attached Programming in Chapel Hill shows initiatives dating back to 1990 when IFC moved their community kitchen and emergency to Rosemary Street. The Downtown Partnership has led efforts to improve the downtown environment for the good of businesses.

In 2006 the Partnership contracted with graduate degree students from the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning to assess how communities around the country address such issues.  This report, “What to do with Change,” is attached to this memorandum.  This report describes the measures that other communities such as Burlington, VT and Madison, WI, have taken to improve their downtowns.   The group felt it important to point out two caveats in comparing the efforts of these communities to Chapel Hill:   The downtown street in Burlington, VT where panhandling is prohibited within 15 feet of any doorway is a street closed to vehicles, so that panhandlers continue to have significant space where they may solicit.   2) Madison, WI is a much bigger community, so that even if panhandling is restricted downtown, there are other commercial areas where panhandling is allowed.  Also, The Madison Police must see the panhandling occur and issue a warning before the panhandler may be charged.

In an email, dated July 7, 2008, Police Attorney Terrie Gale discussed Wilmington’s (NC) approach to panhandling. She states that Wilmington has far more areas outside of downtown where panhandling is allowed. Asheville’s ordinance is also discussed; its restrictions are similar to Chapel Hill’s rules for nighttime panhandling, except enforced day and night. Madison’s ordinance regarding panhandling is also addressed.

The group addressing this issue felt that the attached PATH Outreach data also reflected an improving climate for panhandling and homelessness in Chapel Hill. For the FY 2007 to 2008 - 358 homeless people were reached, and 50 of those were enrolled in the PATH program.  Of those 50 people, 21 received community mental health services, 5 received alcohol/substance abuse treatment, 40 had housing plans put in place and 11 entered stabilized housing with two people receiving rental assistance.

The attached 2007-2008 CH Police Annual Report show a significant decline in the number of panhandling issues reported. The Report shows 28 reported incidents in 2005-2006 and only 14 in 2007-2008. That would equate to a 50% decline between 2005 and 2008.

This information is presented in response to a Council member’s petition.  We solicit Council directive on any next steps.


  1. 2008 Homelessness Report [620 KB pdf] (p. 3).
  2. Programming 07-11-08 [20 KB pdf] (p. 19).
  3. What to do with Change Report – 2007 [944 KB pdf] (p. 23).
  4. Email from Terrie Gale, Chapel Hill Police (July 7, 2008) [1.6 MB pdf] (p. 45).
  5. Chapel Hill Versus Madison, WI Panhandling ordinance [36 KB pdf] (p. 47).
  6. PATH Outreach Data (New Hope) [13 KB pdf] (p. 51).
  7. Police Statistics [17 KB pdf] (p. 54).