This note considers offline and online begging.
It covers -
introduction, highlighting key concepts and studies
- regulatory responses to begging in Australia and overseas
- cyberbegging or online panhandling
note supplements discussion of censorship
(in particular restrictions on street behaviour), assembly,
human rights and
In essence, begging (aka panhandling or spanging, ie spare
changing) involves solicitation of a gift - usually a
small sum of money - by someone for that individual's
personal use on the basis that the recipient does not
have another source of income or that the other source
of income is inadequate to feed/house the recipient and
It is associated with phenomena such as homelessness,
unemployment, refugees and tourism.
It is also stigmatised as involving crime, a challenge
for the regulation of public and quasi-public spaces such
as retail malls, and a source of national shame.
As the final page of this note indicates, begging is now
evident online, both through spam email
solicitations and through web pages that encourage the
kind-hearted to give generously to support individuals
with genuine or fictitious needs.
Commentators typically differentiate two types of begging:
passive and aggressive.
Passive begging involves solicitation that is non-threatening
and often non-verbal, with the beggar for example simply
holding out a hand (or a cup) or sitting in front of a
cap for receipt of coins and notes.
Aggressive begging involves "coercive solicitation"
that features some degree of intimidatory action (such
as following a potential donor down the street) and implied
or actual threats.
Offline begging reflects the characteristics of physical
spaces, with panhandling typically occurring in locations
where there is high pedestrian traffic - particularly
traffic involving a demographic that is likely to give,
whether through innate generosity or through considerations
such as not being obstructed by individual/multiple beggars.
Some observers characterise beggars as inhabiting locations
where there is a 'captive audience'. Some of those locations
have associations with claims explicitly or implicitly
made by the beggar, for example by panhandling outside
a fast food venue by beggars claiming money for food,
'guilt tax' begging outside a church by people appealing
to the donor's awareness of charity or what Canadian Jeremy
Waldron characterises as "ethical confrontation"
by begging near upmarket retailers.
Typical locations include -
nodes (including rail and bus stations, major road intersections
and tollway entrances)
precincts, particularly locations where there are queues
for entry by tourists
fast food venues and restaurants
and grocery stores
in advanced economies rarely occurs adjacent to locations
such as police stations, courts, prisons, psychiatric
facilities and military barracks.
the undeserving poor?
Notions of rich beggars date from at least the time of
the Romans, with Elizabethan broadsheets warning against
deception by workshy vagrants and Sherlock Holmes in The
Man with the Twisted Lip (1891) encountering an ex-journalist
who became a beggar to make more money.
Reality is more complicated and it is clear that many
people would not gain a steady middle class income through
begging outside Maccas or on the metro.
Louise Stark commented in 1992 that
is generally engaged in when other economic resources
. . . have been exhausted. Earnings are rarely
saved. They are spent on short-term purchases, generally
alcohol or drugs, occasionally food.
reason is that many beggars do not make enough to pay
for secure accommodation: carrying money around "can
only lead to being robbed, and possibly beaten up in the
process". In describing US beggars Stark claimed
that the 'average'
works the streets only until he or she has enough money
to purchase a bottle of beer or fortified wine, a vial
of crack, or, rarely, a meal at a fast food restaurant.
and overseas studies attribute begging to factors such
restructuring and associated labour market changes,
particularly with unemployment among low-skill workers
and low-pay 'mac-jobs'
housing affordability problems
to urban areas of indigenous people who experience higher
rates of poverty, unemployment and low educational attainment
domestic violence and a history of physical and sexual
de-institutionalisation of the mentally ill
inadequate (or poorly coordinated) services for individuals
and families experiencing poverty
cutbacks in welfare benefits and funding of social service
organisations (including counselling centres and homeless
The impact of begging is uncertain. Much of the literature
on begging indicates that -
is an integral and significant part of the economy of
some tourist destinations in the third world
begging involves people who are homeless and who may
have psychiatric or substance-dependency problems that
prevent them gaining/holding steady employment
begging in first world economies involves people who
have chosen to beg, in some instances because begging
is more lucrative than other sources of income
have accordingly characterised some begging as a form
of work, one with elements of artistry and skill acquired
through experience and observation of role models.
Others have written of 'panhandler panic', with journalists
and civic leaders being complicit in lurid media reports
about dangers from deranged beggars (or about begging
by stigmatised groups such as gypsies, refugees and Australian
indigenous people) and claims that begging is associated
with physical violence, drunkenness, shoplifting, prostitution,
graffiti and offensive behaviour.
Such claims often discriminate between 'good' and 'bad'
begging, with the bad variety for example pitched as threatening
an area's tourism profile or involving "smelly wild-eyed
old men" rather than cute kids.
Businesses and proponents of 'broken windows' urban policing
have often indicated that one beggar in isolation does
not present fundamental concerns, instead expressing concern
that beggars "cluster" and thereby reduce the
amenity of streets through -
to office workers, tourists, shoppers, commuters and
of traffic (eg by sleeping in or begging adjacent to
behaviour such as urination in doorways or on flowerbeds
of park benches and other facilities 'meant for' tourists
by one or more beggar against another.
As the following page notes, there is substantial variation
in legislative and 'on the ground' responses to begging,
both on a nation by nation basis and on a city by city
or precinct basis.
Some observers are broadly sympathetic to begging per
se or see it as an expression of broader problems (homelessness,
unemployment, discrimination) which if addressed will
mean that begging is no longer an issue.
Other observers have taken a negative stance, arguing
that begging is symptomatic of crime and public order
problems, condemns the beggar to a shameful dependency
or is chosen by the beggar, for example
have the ability to take care of themselves, but choose
to panhandle because they are motivated to make money
as quickly and easily as possible
those observers begging requires action by police and
other authorities, typically through restrictions on solicitation
and associated directions that seek to punish loitering
and vagrancy - what one critic characterises as "social
street sweeping" in which "human refuse are
swept out of sight of the shoppers" but are not assisted.
In Australia begging is a criminal offence in most of
the states and territories.
Tamara Walsh notes that is a strict liability offence;
the bases upon which those arrested for begging may defend
the charge are limited and most people plead guilty and
incur a penalty. Prosecutions typically involve magistrates
courts: few decisions in relation to the offence of begging
are appealed or reported. Walsh notes that 147 people
appeared in Queensland lower courts charged with begging
alms in 2001-02, with 241 begging charges being recorded
in Victoria during the same period. Research by the Australian
Institute of Criminology does not provide comprehensive
figures, but appears to suggest that beggars are typically
perceived as likely to be young, male and socially marginal.
That marginality is an issue for human rights figures
such as Canadian activist Arthur Schafer, who argued in
society silences a panhandler or banishes the panhandler
from places which have traditionally been public places,
such banishment comes close to being a denial of recognition.
Each of us has a fundamental need to be recognized by
our fellow citizens as a person with needs and views.
The criminalization of panhandling is not only an attack
upon the income of beggars, it is an assault on their
dignity and self-respect, on their right to seek self-realisation
through public interaction with their fellow citizens
critics have argued that the criminalisation of begging
(and surrogates such as 'vagrancy', 'littering', 'encumbering
the sidewalk', 'soliciting in an aggressive manner') is
and unwarranted. Begging is directly associated with
extreme poverty and homelessness, and common justifications
for the retention of begging offences, including safety
fears, aesthetics and mere annoyance are unpersuasive.
Kozlowski argued that in the US
begging in public places is a form of free-speech activity
protected by the First Amendment. Accordingly, the government
may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions
on begging in public parks and places only to the extent
that such regulations are content-neutral, narrowly
tailored to serve a significant government interest
and leave open ample alternative channels of communication
cities have sought to reshape urban architecture so that
it is 'beggar unfriendly', for example Los Angeles as
noted by Mike Davis in City of Quartz: Excavating
the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage 1990)
has installed sprinklers under some park benches to deter
homeless people from using them as beds.
have used control of begging as a justification for deployment
of large scale urban CCTV
networks (although most research suggests that such systems
are not a meaningful deterrent) or simply relied on police
foot patrols (sometimes complemented by aggressive 'sweeping'
on the part of private
security personnel in/around quasi-public spaces).
As discussed in the following page of this note, much
of that patrolling aims to inhibit begging simply by keeping
beggars - or merely the homeless - on the move,
excluding them from public spaces.
Points of entry to the Australian literature are 'Defending
Begging Offenders' by Tamara Walsh's in 4(1) QUT Law
& Justice Journal (2004) (PDF)
and ''You're Not Welcome Here': Police Move-On Powers
and Discrimination Law' in 30(1) University of New
South Wales Law Journal (2007) 151-173, 'Begging
for Change: Homelessness and the Law' by Philip Lynch
in 26(3) Melbourne University Law Review (2002)
690-698 and his 2005 MULR paper
'Understanding & Responding to Begging', 'Down and
out? Homelessness and citizenship' by Carla Klease in
10(2) Australian Journal of Human Rights (2004),
'Homelessness, human rights and the law' by Ronald Sackville
in 10(2) Australian Journal of Human Rights (2004) and Dropping Off The Edge
(Carlton: Jesuit Social Services 2007) by Tony Vinson.
Works on overseas regimes include Marjorie Mayers' Street
kids and streetscapes: Panhandling, politics and prophecies
(New York: Peter Lang 2001), Begging questions: Street-level
economic activity and social policy failure (Bristol:
Policy Press 1999) edited by Hartley Dean, Jeremy Waldron's
2000 'Homelessness and Community' in 50(4) University
of Toronto Law Journal (2000) 371-406 and Alison
Wakefield's Selling Security: The Private Policing
of Public Space (Cullompton: Willan 2003).
For law and enforcement see 'Economics of Anti-Begging
Regulations' by Patricia Smith in 64(2) American Journal
of Economics and Sociology (2005) 549-557, Joe Hermer's
Policing Compassion: Begging Law and Power in Public
Spaces (Oxford: Hart 2007), 'Fearing the Mirror:
Responding to Beggars In a 'Kinder and Gentler' America'
by Michael Burns in 19(3) Hastings Constitutional
Law Quarterly (1992) 783-844, 'Controlling Chronic
Misconduct in City Spaces: Of Panhandlers, Skid Rows and
Public-Space Zoning' by Robert Ellickson in 105(5) Yale
Law Journal (1996) 1165-1124, 'Aggressive Panhandling
Legislation and Free Speech Claims: Begging for Trouble'
by Charles Mitchell in 39(4) New York Law School Law
Review (1994) 697-717, 'Aggressive Panhandling Legislation
and the Constitution: Evisceration of Fundamental Rights
- Or Valid Restrictions Upon Offensive Conduct?' by Darryl
Delmonico's in 23 Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly
(1996) 557-590, and 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Panhandling
in Public Parks and Places' by James Kozlowski in 34 NRPA
Law Review (1999) 34-41.
For anxieties see 'Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime? Homelessness,
Panhandling, and the Public' by Barry Lee & Chad Farrell
in 38(3) Urban Affairs Review (2003) 299-324,
'The Regulation of Begging and Vagrancy: A Critical Discussion'
by Roger Burke in 2(2) Crime Prevention and Community
Safety (2000) 43-52, George Kelling & Catherine
Coles' Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and
Reducing Crime in Our Communities (New York: Free
Press 1996), 'The Professional Panhandling Plague' by
Steven Malanga in 18(3) City Journal (2008) (available
and George Wilson's influential 'Exposure to Panhandling
and Beliefs About Poverty Causation' in 76(1) Sociology
and Social Research (1991) 14-19.
Work on perceptions by contemporary beggars includes 'Stronger
Than Dirt: Public Humiliation and Status Enhancement Among
Panhandlers' by Stephen Lankenau in 28 Journal of
Contemporary Ethnography 3 (1999) 288-318 and 'From
Lemons to Lemonade: An Ethnographic Sketch of Late 20th
Century Panhandling' by Louise Stark in 8(1) New England
Journal of Public Policy (1992) 341-358. Stark's
income figures are consistent with 'Income and spending
patterns among panhandlers' by Rohit Bose & Stephen
Hwang in 167(5) Canadian Medical Association Journal
The extensive literature on the shape of indigence, regulation
and representation of begging in the past includes Paola
Pugliatti's Beggary and Theatre in Early Modern England
(Aldershot: Ashgate 2003), Linda Woodbridge's Vagrancy,
Homelessness and English Renaissance Literature (Urbana:
Uni of Illinois Press 2001), William Carroll's Fat
King, Lean Beggar: Representations of Poverty in the Age
of Shakespeare (Ithaca: Cornell Uni Press 1996),
Edward Thompson's Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of
the Black Act (New York: Pantheon 1975), Thomas Adams'
superb Beggars & Bureaucrats: French Social Policy
in the Age of the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford Uni
Press 1991), Todd DePastino's Citizen Hobo: How a
Century of Homelessness Shaped America (Chicago:
Uni of Chicago Press 2003), Kenneth Kusmer's Down
and Out, on the Road: The Homeless in American History
(Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2001), Hanchao Lu's Street
Criers: A Cultural History of Chinese Beggars (Stanford:
Stanford Uni Press 2005) and The German Underworld:
Deviants and Outcasts in German History (London:
Routledge 1988) edited by Richard Evans.
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