City Councilman Suggests Arrests for Those Who Give Money, Food to Homeless

A Charlotte, North Carolina, city councilman blasted "aggressive panhandling" and suggested making the donation of food or clothes to the city's homeless people a criminal misdemeanor.

Republican Councilman Tariq Bokhari stirred controversy during a Monday city council meeting in which he said people who are bringing food and clothing to homeless shelters are "only making themselves feel good." But it was his suggestion that "perhaps we explore making that a misdemeanor" that drew the ire of fellow city council members as well as local charities and shelters. Bokhari sought to clarify his comments in a Facebook post in which he said his intentions are to find long-term solutions to the homeless problem, not simply "Band-Aids" which offer only temporary relief.

"People aren't getting it, and they're still bringing food and clothing and resources directly to folks that are out there right now. They're only making themselves feel good," Bokhari said during a Monday city council meeting, he argued that such donations are doing more harm than good to help solve the city's increasing number of homeless people living on the streets.

"Perhaps we explore making that a misdemeanor," Bokhari said in reference to people who give money directly to homeless people.

A January 2020 survey found there were about 3,600 people in Mecklenburg County who were experiencing homelessness, county data showed at the time. Data recorded since the March 2020 start of the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet been released.

In a Thursday Facebook post, Bokhari doubled down on his remarks and clarified that his intention was to choose a different approach to reducing the number of homeless people living on Charlotte's streets. He argued that current task force and city efforts are clearly failing. Charlotte city leaders are currently creating a five-year plan to end homelessness and expand affordable housing, WIVB-TV reported Monday.

"What we have been doing as a community for the homeless in Charlotte, though well intentioned, isn't producing the results we need. From tent city to aggressive panhandling, things are getting worse. I wanted to inspire the task force earlier this week to think outside of the box and come up with outcome-based solutions, I was not proposing specific policy," Bokhari wrote on Thursday.

"My comments at Monday night's meeting may have seemed harsh to some of you, but I believe we have to push the envelope in order for important issues to get the attention they deserve. My intention has never been to harm the homeless community, rather make real change and positive outcomes for them. I am grateful this week's dialogue has put the important work of those crafting the 5-year strategy higher on our collective radar," the GOP councilmember continued.

Bokhari, whose website describes him as a fintech startup founder, recently spoke with the Charlotte Business Journal about spearheading the recruitment of tech companies to the city.

"Too often, Charlotte, for decades, has gotten into this rinse and repeat model," Bokhari said. "As soon as somebody decides a word, phrase or sentence, it's a marketing effort. We weren't going to market that we had tech talent, we were going to make it better by developing innovative programs."

Newsweek reached out to Bokhari's office Monday afternoon for any additional remarks about the homeless issues and solutions for Charlotte.

charlotte homeless bokhari donation crime
Protesters march by a homeless man September 21, 2016 in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. During a Charlotte city council meeting on Monday, Councilman Tariq Bokhari said people who are bringing food and clothing to homeless shelters are "only making themselves feel good." SEAN RAYFORD / Stringer/Getty Images