CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Nick Royal walks to work up Woodlawn Road, and he says he knows the people who ask for money there well.
"This one guy, he always has the same story about how he ran out of gas down here somewhere and him and his girlfriend and his kids are trying to get back home," he says. "You see him at least three of four times a week with the same story, so it doesn't really work."
The panhandlers haven't been out in about a week, Royal says. And Thursday, he noticed something else: a new electronic sign with a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police logo on it, warning people that soliciting from the median is illegal. It went up on Woodlawn near South Tryon Thursday.
It's a first for police in the Westover division, who usually use the signs to tell people when they're speeding. They put this one up in response to complaints, and say it'll stay in place for at least a few days.
There's a little doubt about whether it'll actually work on its own.
"I don't think so," said Royal.
CMPD says it'll put officers in place next week to enforce the ordinance.
The bigger issue here: What do you do about panhandlers?
For one thing, Charlotte can't just ban people from asking for money on the street, otherwise those Salvation Army bell ringers would be breaking the law.
So in 2003, the city came up with limits: No panhandling within 20 feet of an outdoor dining or a sales area, a bank or an ATM. The ban now includes medians, bus stops and outdoor lines and, you can't ask for money at night.
Homeless advocates like the Urban Ministry Center don't believe panhandling helps anyone. And then there's the ministry's study from earlier this year, which says 90-percent of all panhandlers in the city are not actually homeless.
Back on Woodlawn Road, there's not a lot of sympathy for panhandlers, whether they're homeless or not.
"Even if they get those couple of dollars," Royal says, "they're still on the street."
The hope here is that the people who need help get it, while the people who don't, don't get your money.