Aggressive panhandling

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Aggressive panhandling is a legal term that refers to unlawful forms of public solicitation.

Proponents of such legislation advocate placing limits on these activities. Some opponents lament what they perceive to be the "criminalization of homelessness" and argue that such laws are discriminatory and unevenly enforced.


In general, "aggressive panhandling" is a solicitation made in person for immediate donation of money or other gratuity. This may be done by vocal appeal (asking, requesting, coercing (badgering), sympathy appeals, harassment, threats, or demands) or by nonvocal appeal (usage of signs or other signals gestures, postures, children, animals, or props such as toys and musical instruments). It is the habitual manipulative, coercive, or intimidatory use of another individual's sympathy, fear, guilt, or insecurity for monetary gain. It is a form of emotional and financial abuse.

Panhandling is a term which may have negative connotations but which can apply to any request for a loan or gift under circumstances in which it might not be inappropriate.[1] For instance, if one is short just a small fraction of a fee or fare, does not have small bills, or has only credit cards in a situation in which cash only is accepted. In many cultures and civilizations, begging is considered an acceptable and honorable alternative to work when it is due to necessity or religious abstention from economic activity. A sympathetic view of panhandling is exemplified in the depression-era song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" The song has been called "the anthem" of the era.[2] The song, written by an immigrant living on New York's Lower East Side, continues to be popular.[3]

Aggressive panhandling as a social problem[edit]

Others[who?] contend that panhandlers are legitimately expressing their need and their views on the inadequacy of the social net and as such should not be legitimately "silenced". Helen Hershkoff claims legal restrictions on pandhandlers' activities are "unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and deprive the homeless of their right to free speech".[1]

Conversely, Roger Conner asserts that "Aggressive begging is not common panhandling. It is uncommon panhandling, a type of harassment bordering on extortion that is practiced by a minority of street people."[1]

Aggressive panhandling in law[edit]

The definition of so-called "Aggressive panhandling" is given by city and county ordinances as well as state statutes.

For example, according to the Bloomington, Indiana website, panhandling is "a growing social and public safety concern faced by cities of all sizes, including Bloomington. Many panhandlers passively ask for money or hold a sign. Others are much more aggressive, making loud, sometime repeated demands and some panhandlers choose to solicit in places that are particularly intimidating such as near automated teller machines, in a restroom or near your car. This is considered aggressive panhandling and in Indiana is against the law.".[4]

Constitutional lawyers, including but not limited to the American Civil Liberties Union, have secured a series of court decisions confirming their view that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects activities which some local ordinances have attempted to proscribe as illegal panhandling. In response, many jurisdictions have responded by narrowing the definition of illegal panhandling. The generally accepted terminology is to denominate such activity as "aggressive" panhandling.

In 1991 and 1992, federal courts overturned New York and California state laws that made aggressive panhandling illegal. It was observed that "Groups and individuals all over the United States engage in highly public fundraising for all sorts of causes and charities."

Restrictions defining solicitation or panhandling as "aggressive" regard both manner and context. A typical ordinance is one from Longview, Washington:

9.23.030 Place of panhandling – Violation. It shall be unlawful for any person to panhandle when the person solicited is in any of the following places within the city limits of Longview, Washington:

  1. At any bus stop; or
  2. In any public transportation vehicle or facility; or
  3. In any vehicle on a street or on a driveway providing ingress or egress to a street where such driveway is open to the general public; or
  4. Within 50 feet of any automated teller machine (ATM); or
  5. On private property, unless the panhandler is in physical possession of written permission from the owner or lawful occupant thereof. (Ord. 3051 § 2, 2008).

9.23.040 Manner of panhandling – Violation. It shall be unlawful for any person to panhandle in any of the following manners:

  1. By intentionally coming within three feet of the person solicited, unless that person has indicated that he or she does wish to make a donation; or
  2. By intentionally obstructing the path of the person or vehicle of the person solicited; or
  3. By intentionally obstructing the passage through the entrance or exit of any building; or
  4. By soliciting anyone under the age of 16; or
  5. By following a person who walks away from the panhandler, if the panhandler’s conduct is intended to or is reasonably likely to intimidate the person being solicited into responding affirmatively to the solicitation; or
  6. By using profane or abusive language, either during the solicitation or following a refusal. (Ord. 3051 § 2, 2008).[5]

Panhandling constrictions[edit]

United States[edit]

In 2004, the city of Orlando, Florida passed an ordinance (Orlando Municipal Code section 43.86) requiring panhandlers to obtain a permit from the municipal police department. The ordinance further makes it a crime to panhandle in the commercial core of downtown Orlando, as well as within 50 feet of any bank or automated teller machine. It is also considered a crime in Orlando for panhandlers to make false or untrue statements, or to disguise themselves, to solicit money, and to use money obtained for a claim of a specific purpose (e.g. food) to be spent on anything else (e.g. malt liquor). The Atlanta, Georgia, city council approved a ban on panhandling.


The province of Ontario introduced its Safe Streets Act in 1999 to restrict specific kinds of begging, particularly certain narrowly defined cases of "aggressive" or abusive panhandling.[6] In 2001 this law survived a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[7] The law was further upheld by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in January 2007.[8]

United Kingdom[edit]

Although begging is illegal, it does not carry a jail sentence under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. However, individual aggressive beggars may be subject to court injunction[9] and jail.[10]

South Africa[edit]

Begging on street corners is illegal in South Africa although not enforced.[11]


Solicitation of money on the street has been legal in Finland since at least 1987, when the Poor Law was invalidated. In 2003, the Public Order Act replaced any local government rules and completely decriminalized begging. There have been increasing calls for restrictions on immigrants, and these calls are intermingled with concerns about aggressive panhandlers.[12]


According to US State Department reports, women and children from Romania are cited by police for "vagrancy and begging", without a distinction between "aggressive panhandling" and uncomplicated "begging".


  1. ^ a b c Hershkoff, Helen; Conner, Roger (June 1993). "Aggressive panhandling laws" (PDF). ABA Journal 79: 40–41. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  2. ^ A Depression-Era Anthem For Our Times "n 1932, a young New York City lyricist named E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, together with composer Jay Gorney, penned what is considered the anthem of the Great Depression, 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'", National Public Radio's Weekend Edition (November 15, 2008).
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Bloomington, Indiana Website". Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  5. ^ "Longview Panhandling Code on Code". Retrieved 2013-06-17. 
  6. ^ "Safe Streets Act". Government of Ontario. 1999. Archived from the original on 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  7. ^ "'Squeegee kids' law upheld in Ontario". CBC News. 2001-08-03. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  8. ^ "Squeegee panhandling washed out by Ontario Appeal Court". CBC News. 2007-01-17. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  9. ^ Bunyan, Nigel (2003-08-22). "Beggar ban may spark nationwide crackdown". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  10. ^ Stokes, Paul (2003-08-12). "Council in legal move to jail £60-a-day beggar". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  11. ^
  12. ^

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