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What is it called when homeless people beg for money?

Quick Answer

When homeless people beg for money on the street, it is commonly referred to as panhandling. Other terms used include begging, asking for change, spanging (spare changing), and flying a sign. Regardless of the terminology, panhandling involves a homeless person soliciting donations from passersby in public spaces.

Overview of Panhandling

Panhandling is a practice that has existed for centuries among impoverished and displaced populations. With increasing homelessness in many urban areas, panhandling has become more visible and controversial in recent decades. Critics view it as a public nuisance, while advocates argue panhandlers have a right to ask for help meeting their basic needs. Some key aspects of panhandling include:

Who Panhandles

– Individuals experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty. Many panhandlers are chronically homeless and have mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders.

– People temporarily displaced by emergencies or financial setbacks. Some panhandlers are newly homeless after job loss, medical bills, etc.

– People supplementing other income sources like disability benefits, part-time work, etc. Panhandling can provide quick cash for food, transportation, medication.

Where Panhandling Occurs

– Public sidewalks, streets, parks, plazas, transportation hubs

– Near shopping areas, entertainment districts, and tourist attractions

– Roadway medians, off-ramps, bridges with sidewalks

– Outside of businesses, sports stadiums, concert venues

– Public transportation like subway cars, buses

Methods of Panhandling

– Flying a sign – Holding a piece of cardboard with a message, usually indicating need

– Direct verbal appeals – Explicitly asking passersby for money

– Musical performance – Playing instruments, singing for donations

– Offering small items or services – Washing windshields, providing food samples

– Feigning injuries, disabilities, veterans status – Often misleading ways to gain sympathy

Public Perceptions

– Annoyance, guilt, sadness – Mixed emotions depending on exposure to panhandling

– Safety concerns – Some associate panhandling with crime, scams, harassment

– Compassion, desire to help – Particularly among those who have experienced hardship

– Ambivalence about enabling addiction or misusing money

Laws and Regulations

Many cities have implemented laws restricting certain forms of panhandling in an effort to control it. Regulations vary but may include:

Location Bans

– Prohibiting panhandling near ATMs, banks, public transit stops

– Banning panhandling in certain neighborhoods or districts

– Preventing panhandling on medians or traffic islands

Time Bans

– No panhandling at night, during rush hour, etc.

Aggressive Panhandling Bans

– No intimidating, blocking, or touching passersby

– No persistent demands after refusal

– No panhandling in groups, with children

Public Nuisance Bans

– No panhandling while intoxicated or disorderly

– No aggressive sign shaking, loud demands

– No panhandling near outdoor patio dining


– Fines, fees, mandatory court appearances

– Confiscation of panhandling proceeds

– Misdemeanor charges for repeat offenders

– Moving violators out of restricted areas

Arguments For and Against Panhandling Bans

The debate over whether to restrict panhandling involves weighing public interests vs. individual rights.

Arguments For Panhandling Bans

– Improves quality of life, aesthetics of public spaces

– Reduces threatening interactions, harassment of passersby

– Prevents scams that exploit sympathies of public

– Allows police to move along problematic individuals

– May encourage homeless to seek housing, services

Arguments Against Panhandling Bans

– Infringes on free speech rights of panhandlers

– Unjustly targets poor; laws favor businesses

– Displaces/hides problem rather than reducing homelessness

– Criminalizes homelessness; funnels into justice system

– Reduces income for those unable to work

Alternatives to Bans

Some advocate for non-punitive approaches that address root causes:

Public Education

– Promote empathy while discouraging giving

– Correct misconceptions about homelessness

Housing and Services

– Expand mental health, addiction, job training programs

– Provide transitional and permanent supportive housing

Day Centers

– Offer basic services like showers, mail, storage

– Connect to case management, benefits assistance

Street Outreach

– Teams engage those least likely to come indoors

– Assess needs, build trust, link to services

Harm Reduction

– Services like syringe exchange, overdose prevention

– Reduces risks while not requiring abstinence

Public Restrooms

– Provide sanitary alternatives to public urination

Income Assistance

– Rental subsidies, universal basic income pilots

– Can reduce reliance on panhandling for income


Panhandling involves homeless and impoverished people asking passersby for money in public spaces. As homelessness rises, many cities have passed laws restricting aggressive or manipulative forms of panhandling. Critics argue these laws unjustly target the poor and infringe on free speech. Advocates believe panhandling bans improve public spaces while encouraging self-sufficiency. However, evidence suggests bans merely temporarily displace the visibly homeless. Addressing root causes through housing, services, and income support may be more effective long-term solutions. The complex issue requires balancing the rights of the disadvantaged with public interests.