Estimates indicate over half a million people in the United States are homeless. And while that figure may be declining, states still struggle to find a solution to homelessness. While some states have extended hate crime protections to the homeless and created mobile "homeless courts" others have enacted anti-panhandling laws to criminalize begging.
So are anti-panhandling statutes legal? And if so, what exactly do they prohibit? Here's a roundup of various anti-panhandling laws:
Circuit Split on Criminal Statutes
Whether begging is illegal may depend on where you live. As it stands now, regional federal courts are split on whether panhandling prohibitions are constitutional:
Give Aid and Go to Jail
It isn't just panhandlers that are criminalized -- some jurisdictions make it a crime to give donations to the homeless. A Texas chef who has fed the homeless for over a decade was ticketed for feeding the homeless without a permit. And last year two pastors and a 90-year-old man were arrested for feeding homeless people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Sunshine State, as it turns out, doesn't have a sunny disposition when it comes to good Samaritans -- volunteers in Orlando were also arrested for feeding homeless people in a park.
Even if you're homeless, you still have rights. If you are having difficulty dealing with law enforcement or the legal system, you may have the right to a court-appointed attorney, or you can contact an experienced criminal lawyer in your area.