Panhandling Essay

How would you like to spend every day wondering if you are going to get a meal, or a bed to sleep in? For many panhandlers, this revelation is a reality. Panhandling, which is asking others for money, has become a common action in America. Panhandling is mostly associated with homelessness, struggling people and may be their only opportunity to earn money. Recently the subject of whether panhandling should be legal or not has been up for debate. With decent morals, the answer is very clear. Panhandling shouldn’t be restricted because it would take away the citizens' right to free speech, and their opportunity to improve. 

Panhandlers don’t want to have to plead for money, but it may be their only chance for building their life. For many cases, it is difficult when to consider an action panhandling and who to punish. For example, “if a police officer sees a well-dressed businessman asking a stranger for a quarter to make a phone call, he or she would likely not attempt to discipline the businessman for panhandling”(Daniels 1). It is unfair to allow a person of one social status to beg for money, but not one of the other. These events would undoubtedly slide if there were to be a law against panhandling. There are also disagreements over what you can consider panhandling. In some cases, “passive panhandlers may hold a sign asking for a donation, but may not make any “vocal request””(Kozlowski 1). These circumstances bring up whether this would be considered panhandling or if it would be dissuaded from these laws. 

Aside from panhandling laws being difficult to enforce, they are also unfair to the citizens trying to make a better life for themselves. For many panhandlers, begging for money is their last opportunity to accumulate enough wealth to survive. For example, “When asked, “What if panhandling just wasn’t an option?” 27% did not have an answer. Another 17.5% said that they wouldn’t be able to do anything and/or they would go hungry”(Gulliver). After personally speaking to these individuals forced to live these lifestyles, it is very evident panhandling is their only choice. Statistics show, “40% reported making between ten and thirty dollars per day, while 38% said they earned more than thirty dollars daily. Only 22% reported making more than fifty dollars per day”(Gulliver). After seeing the numbers, it is easy to understand that panhandlers are barely making it by as it is. Ten-dollars are barely enough to provide food for the day despite other living expenses. For passersby donating a few bucks along the street, it is hardly a cost let alone a burden. If we decide to not allow panhandling we will create an even more dismal situation for those suffering.

Another crucial reason we cannot restrict panhandling is that it encroaches constitutional rights for our people. Under the first amendment, all citizens are able to speak freely which would include the right to ask for a donation. Experts state, “local and state authorities can’t dictate which causes may or may not solicit donations within their borders. A regulator’s paternalistic belief that a cause is unwise or inefficient is not a valid reason to limit speech seeking support for it”(Mead). This quote states that the government would be overstepping its authority by trying to regulate constitutionally ensured rights. States would not be permitted to decide the fate of panhandlers just because they disagree with the lifestyle. In addition, “By instituting such laws, cities "are saying...[people] can engage in any manner of free speech on sidewalks, except panhandling,"(Daniels). By complying with panhandling laws, we would be allowing the government to pick and choose which rights they want to allow the citizens. The common person should fear this sort of control because it proves the government may restrict other constitutional rights in the future. In other words, “The significant governmental interest in urban redevelopment and revitalization is not sufficiently compelling to allow restrictions that effectively ban the First Amendment right”(Kozlowski). The government’s main reason for restricting panhandling is the belief that panhandlers will negatively impact businesses. Once the government believes big businesses are more important than the people, there is clearly a problem. If we do not allow panhandlers to ask for donations, we are taking away their constitutional rights which become discrimination. 

Many people who oppose panhandling believe that money given to street beggars will help fuel a possible drug addiction. Hasty assumptions are thrown around like “donations are at risk of being wasted or feeding the pervasive drug culture in the neighborhood”(Abbott). A statement like this is a generalization that will damage homeless people overall. Withholding money from beggars because “some” spend it towards drugs criminalizes the innocents. Looking at people as guilty until proven innocent is a very dangerous mindset and damages any trust in the community. Some people argue that the best way to donate is to give to a charity or organization. The problem with this solution is that you do not know where your money is going, and many take profits. Experts state, “They are not designed to end it [homelessness]. They are designed to sustain it and make money from it.”(Noonan). Donations could go directly back into the hands of organizations and won’t become as valuable to individuals. There are other things you may give to panhandlers that could not be used for an unhealthy addiction. Many suggest, "Put a little baggie together for a panhandler. Fill it with food, hygiene products, toothpaste, toothbrush. But don't put money in it."(Elston). With this solution, donators know exactly where their money is going and don’t have to worry about negative effects. 

Panhandling is necessary to sustain the well being of many homeless people and outlawing it would be a violation of human rights. Panhandling laws are extremely difficult to enforce and categorize, they would only create unnecessary inconveniences for panhandlers. We mustn't be inconsiderate and come to the realization that begging may be the only opportunity for a panhandler to get their life in order. Most importantly, we cannot let the government restrict constitutionally assured rights. Instead of trying our best to make the lives of panhandlers harder, we must concentrate on how we can help them. There are many ways we can assist such as donating directly, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or helping out at a food bank. We as a community should respect and show care for those who are doing their best to survive despite their struggle.

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