While there is no statewide prohibition on panhandling, publicly asking for money or assistance can be illegal under certain circumstances. Many cities have enacted ordinances that prohibit panhandling in certain forms.
The First Amendment prohibits an outright ban of all panhandling, so cities have crafted ordinances they hope will withstand scrutiny. For instance, the City of Fort Worth prohibits solicitation, begging, and panhandling when:
- the solicitor is using violent or threatening gestures;
- the solicitor continues after having been told no;
- the solicitor blocks the passages of vehicles or pedestrians;
- people are standing in line for tickets, entry into a building, or waiting in line for any other purpose;
- soliciting from anyone less than 16 years old
- the solicitor is within 20 feet of:
- an ATM
- a bank entrance
- a parking meter
- a public parking garage
- a marked crosswalk
- an entrance of a commercial or government building etc.
Many cities across Texas have similar ordinances, including:
Dallas: Sec. 31-35. Solicitation by Coercion
Fort Worth: Sec. 30-16 Aggressive Panhandling or Solicitation
San Antonio: Sec. 21-29 Aggressive Solicitation
Houston: Sec. 28-46 Aggressive Panhandling
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In 2017, Fort Worth police issued more than 1000 panhandling related citations. Criminal consequences aside, giving money to panhandlers raises other concerns: Are the panhandlers who you see downtown or on Magnolia truly in need – or are they just taking advantage of visitors and couples out on dates? As someone who has participated in the annual homeless count, I can tell you that the truly needy are often far from the public eye. What can you do to help?
Earlier this year, a group of civic and business organizations and the city of Fort Worth launched a public education campaign designed to cut down on panhandling and help people out of homelessness. The campaign, dubbed “A Better Way to Offer Change,” encourages people who would normally give a panhandler change to instead donate money via a text message to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. The money can help people pay housing application fees or buy a bus ticket or motel vouches for stranded people. (Text GIVETCHS or FWCHANGE to 41444 to give now.)
Betsy Beaman, Director of Communications for the Presbyterian Night Shelter, was also kind enough to share a wealth of information about what you can do to help the homeless, which is included below.
Also published on Medium.