Criminalization of Panhandling -- Talking Points
Bans on begging or panhandling can have the effect of criminalizing homelessness. These talking points may be helpful when advocating against these laws in forums such as city council meetings or letters to the editor. Note that there may be additional points applicable to the facts on the ground in your community. Please exercise your best judgment when choosing which points apply to your advocacy efforts.
- With the rapidly increasing cost of living in Washington, including housing, some people have been left with no way to provide for their basic needs without asking for assistance from others in public. This may take the form of panhandling.
- Municipalities throughout Washington have enacted bans on panhandling on public property. These laws are one of the most common ways Washington cities criminalize homeless residents.
- Laws that ban panhandling are unconstitutional. The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that cities may not restrict panhandling in places like on sidewalks, in or near parks, or in medians or along streets if it allows other speech in those areas. If a law restricts panhandling but not other speech in these common public spaces, it violates the First Amendment.
- Criminalizing panhandling is expensive. A recent study by Seattle University’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project calculated the cost of enforcing Seattle’s “pedestrian interference” law between 2009 and 2013. They estimated that it cost at least $24,000 in judicial costs over those five years to move these cases through the criminal justice system. And this law potentially cost the city almost 2 million dollars in costs of incarceration over that same period.
Mike Rosenberg, “Home Prices Rising Faster in Washington than in any Other State,” Seattle Times (June 22, 2016), available at: http://www.seattletimes.com/business/home-prices-rising-faster-in-washington-than-in-any-other-state/
Mike Rosenberg, “Seattle Rents now Growing Faster than in any Other U.S. City,” Seattle Times (July 21, 2016), available at: http://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/seattle-rents-now-growing-faster-than-in-any-other-us-city/
Nat’l Health Care for the Homeless Council, “Talking Points on Homeless Encampments & Sweeps,” (Mar. 2016), available at: https://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/talking-points-on-encampments.pdf
Nat’l Alliance to End Homelessness, “Housing First,” available at: http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/housing_first
John M. Glionna, “Utah is Winning the War on Chronic Homelessness with ‘Housing First’ Program,” Los Angeles Times (May 24, 2015), available at: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-utah-housing-first-20150524-story.html
Michael Wilt, “‘Housing First’ Policy Helps Communities Combat Veteran Homelessness,” TSAHC Texas (Aug. 14, 2015), available at: http://www.tsahc.org/blog/post/housing-first-policy-helps-communities-combat-veteran-homelessness
Joshua Howard, David Tran, et al., “At What Cost: The Minimum Cost of Criminalizing Homelessness in Seattle and Spokane,” Seattle University School of Law Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (May 6, 2015), available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2602530
Justin Olson, Scott MacDonald, et al., “Washington’s War on the Visibly Poor: Survey of Criminalizing Ordinances & their Enforcement,” Seattle University School of Law Homeless Rights Advocacy project (May 6, 2015), available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2602318
Opinion, City of Lakewood v. Willis
, Case No. 91827-9 (Wash. S. Ct. 2016).
Statement of Interest of the United States, Bell v. Boise
, No. 1:09-cv-00540, ECF No. 276 (D. Idaho Aug. 6, 2015)