A campaign dedicated to working with legal and local organizing partners in an allied push to get communities to repeal their anti-panhandling ordinances and work towards constructive solutions, housing not handcuffs.
Begging, solicitation, or panhandling are the names given to acts of asking for help by people experiencing homelessness and those at risk of homelessness, often by ordinances that criminalize this act. With more people finding themselves unable to meet their basic needs due to falling wages and rising rents, these ordinances are increasing across the country—more than 43% in the past 10 years
Common Myths Around Panhandling
Myth: I should/ shouldn’t give panhandlers money
- Fact: The decision to donate money rests solely on you. There is nothing wrong with giving money to those who ask for help. If you choose not to give, make eye contact and decline politely.
Myth: Panhandlers will spend donated money on drugs or alcohol
- Fact: Several studies show that when money is donated to panhandlers, most spend it primarily on food and other necessities
Myth: Panhandlers make tons of money
- Fact: One study estimates that the average panhandler only makes about 300 dollars per month panhandling. When people ask for help it’s because they need it
Myth: Panhandlers are lazy and don’t want to work
- Fact: The success of work programs in cities like Albuquerque, NM show us that panhandlers who can work will if given the opportunity to do so
Myth: Anti-panhandling ordinances will decrease panhandling
- Fact: Panhandling is caused by lack of adequate, affordable housing, low wages, lack of health care, and other systemic causes. Addressing people’s survival needs is the best way to end panhandling.
The landmark Norton v. Springfield case in 2015 set a precedent that deems most panhandling laws on the books today unconstitutional. Since that time, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has worked together with its partners to get communities to repeal their anti-panhandling ordinances. In 2018 The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty initiated the #IAskForHelpBecause campaign to help humanize those who need to ask for help while advocating for their constitutional right to do so. The #IAskForHelpBecause campaign uses legal and organizing partners to stop the enforcement of unconstitutional panhandling ordinances and to promote more constructive approaches to addressing the hunger and homelessness that creates the need for panhandling.
4 Reasons Why You Should Support Repealing Anti-Panhandling Laws and Replacing Them with Housing, Jobs, and Services
The Supreme Court and lower courts have repeatedly found that asking for help is protected speech under the First Amendment.
Anti-panhandling laws fail to address the under lying causes of homelessness and poverty in the community, and in fact make it worse by putting arrest records, fines, and fees in the way of those trying to exit homelessness.
Studies show providing housing and services costs two-to-three times less than cycling homeless persons through the criminal justice system.
Repealing anti-panhandling ordinances does not mean promoting panhandling-it means freeing up police resources that can be redirected to housing and services that will actually end the need for people to ask for help in the first place
- Housing Not Handcuffs: Ending the Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
- Begging for Change: Begging Restrictions Throughout Washington
- Everything you think you know about panhandlers is wrong
- Income and spending patterns among panhandlers
- After the U.S. Supreme Court’s expansion of the First Amendment, the seventh circuit invalidates Springfield’s panhandling prohibition
- The Constitutionality of Panhandling Ordinances: Making” Cents” Out of Reed v. Town of Gilbert
- The annihilation of space by law: The roots and implications of anti‐homeless laws in the United States
Criminalization of panhandling, in particular, has increased exponentially over the last few years. The Law Center has been at the forefront of tracking laws criminalizing homelessness in 187 for a decade. Our most recent survey found that 27% of cities have a city-wide anti-panhandling prohibition, a 43% increase since 2006. Moreover, 61% of these cities prohibit panhandling in specific places within the city, a 7% increase since 2006. When in place, these laws disparately impact the communities already disproportionately affected by homelessness. That is, communities of color, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, mentally and physically disabled persons, and LGBTQ youth are further marginalized by these laws that criminalize homelessness. In addition, these laws and policies violate civil and human rights, harm vulnerable people, and quite simply, do not work.
In contrast, providing housing, jobs, and services to the homeless population does work. Moreover, options that advocate for housing, jobs, and services over criminalizing save the city money. For example, a chronically homeless person costs the taxpayer an average of $35,578 per year. Meanwhile, a study done by the National Alliance to End Homelessness illuminates that on average, that cost can be reduced by 49.5% when they are placed in supportive housing. While not every person who panhandles is homeless, this example illustrates that alternatives that seek to provide housing, jobs, and services to those who need it is the superior choice. Additionally, other constructive, more modest practices can have a substantial and positive impact on homeless individuals and panhandlers in particular.
Alternative Route #1: Syracuse, New York
In Syracuse, New York, the county and private donors have raised $200,000 as part of the Hiring Ground initiative. The program is simple: panhandlers are offered lunch and $50 at the end of the day in exchange for day labor. Moreover, the program provides a social worker who rides alongside those contracted who they each meet with. The social worker allows for individuals, for example, to enroll in Medicaid and other support services. So for, there have been more people who want to work than there have been spots. This method has also been implemented in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This alternative is superior to criminalizing panhandling because instead of trying to take away people’s right to ask for help and right to survive, they allow for people to earn a day’s wage and create substantive steps towards finding a job, reconnecting with loved ones or obtaining steady shelter.
Alternative Route #2: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In Philadelphia, the city is implementing a “same-day pay” program that is designed to offer people an alternative to panhandling, through a partnership with the Mural Arts Program. The program allows for individuals looking for work to assist with mural painting through a lottery program. If they receive a call that there’s a job available, they work for half the day and receive a paycheck. People can also be connected to city services, such as signing up for a city ID card and connecting to housing and mentorship.
This alternative is better than criminalizing panhandling because instead of criminalizing panhandlers right to ask for help, Philadelphia meets some of the needs of panhandlers so that they do not need to ask for help in the first place. It is proactive, not reactive.
Individuals, Legal organizations , Grassroots organizations , and Advocacy organizations can participate in the #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign. Participation can range from sending demand letters to cities, organization public actions, or even sharing ready-to-publish social media materials. Contact the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty to find out ways you can join the campaign.