Panhandling is hard issue to control
Editors Baltimore Times | 10/25/2013, 6 a.m.
Cities all over America have reported an increase in panhandling and a corresponding increase in attempts to control or ban it— as well as in lawsuits challenging the restrictions. Crafting an ordinance to better regulate panhandling is a difficult task, but one that Baltimore, with input from advocates for the poor, should attempt.
Panhandling has increased dramatically in Baltimore in recent years, and it’s not
entirely clear that it’s recession-related. Nor is it clear what percentage of panhandlers, are actually homeless or how many spend the money donated by good Samaritans on drugs or alcohol. But any ordinance created must be blind to the presumed use of the money. Someone trying to collect enough to buy a six-pack enjoys the same rights under the First Amendment as someone soliciting money for a charity.
Any prohibition of begging must be carefully worded and limited in scope. The issue pits the expectations of citizens to be free of annoyance, fear and intrusion against the free speech rights of others, whether they are asking for directions or a handout.
Aggressive panhandling that includes following people, refusing to take a “no” for an answer, or otherwise intimidating people should clearly be illegal. But other cases are close calls and the decision officials make can determine the feel of a city.
If Baltimore’s leaders want to curb begging, they have to find a balance that offers clear resources to individuals and families in need, and should see what other cities have done to bring some relief to all parties involved.