What is Panhandling? Is is Legal?

By Melissa Howard

You’re on your way to work. As you go down the road you see that the fire department has set up the boot drive at the next stop light. Not thinking too much about it, besides hoping the light doesn’t turn red before you get there, you keep on driving.

As you turn the corner you see that the high school cheerleaders and football team are out with signs that read, ‘Car Wash $5.00.’ Looking around your car to see if it needs to be cleaned, you continue to drive. But right before you get to work you see a homeless person holding a sign that says ‘Will work for food.’ You turn and park your car and go to work.

Noticing these things, which of these people do you think were panhandling? And why?

All three of these people were doing the same thing, asking for money to help better themselves, either to buy uniforms, to help pay for the fireman’s ball or to buy food.

I wanted to find out what are the differences between panhandling, begging and solicitation. Then I thought to throw in the more accepted forms of panhandling, which were donating and fundraising. Why would I add them? Well mainly just to show how gray the lines really are.

Here are the definitions:

1.  Begging or Panhandling- is to request a donation in a supplicating manner.

2.  Solicitation- ‘Urgently asking’ it is the action or instance of soliciting.

3.  Donating- a donation is a gift given, typically for charitable purposes and/or to benefit a cause.

4.  Fundraising- is the process of soliciting and gathering contributions as money or other resources, by requesting donations from individuals, businesses, charitable foundations, or governmental agencies.

As you can see the lines are very blurred.

The United State Supreme Court affirmed the right of all persons to beg, whether an individual or an organization and that those rights are protected under the first and fourteenth amendments to the constitution. It was stated that local governments have other means to control beggars /panhandlers. But that begging or holding a sign in any public forum may not be prohibited. Holding a sign is protected under the first and fourteenth amendments.

Now the question is, is panhandling illegal?

Well, the fast answer is no. Panhandling is not illegal; it is protected under the first and fourteenth amendments, freedom of speech and the right to travel. But will you still get arrested? Most likely yes.

If a police officer comes up to you and you’re panhandling and not on the on/off ramps, in front of a business, school and if you don’t have any warrants, you are not doing anything wrong and don’t give them a reason either.

Many people see panhandlers as drunks, addicts, and lazy. “Why give money to them when they will only spend it on their habit or habits.” Many people think that this is true, but in many cases it isn’t.

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1 Response to “What is Panhandling? Is is Legal?”


  • I think that regardless of the form of panhandling, what matters most is the individual being able to respect others. If someone is interested in helping them they will let the person know by approaching them. If they aren’t then the person who is panhandling needs to respect that and keep their distance. It’s that simple.

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