In other words, an act of panhandling in one context might not be intimidating, but the same behavior in a different context might.16 Among the contextual factors that influence how intimidating panhandling is are: Typically, relatively few panhandlers account for most complaints to police about panhandling.18 The typical profile of a panhandler that emerges from a number of studies is that of an unemployed, unmarried male in his 30s or 40s, with substance abuse problems, few family ties, a high school education, and laborer's skills.19 Some observers have noted that younger people—many of whom are runaways or otherwise transient—are turning to panhandling.20, A high percentage of panhandlers in U. urban areas are African-American.21 Some panhandlers suffer from mental illness, but most do not.22 Many panhandlers have criminal records, but panhandlers are nearly as likely to have been crime victims as offenders.23 Some are transient, but most have been in their community for a long time.24 † In many less-developed countries, children commonly beg to support themselves and their families, a phenomenon less common in the United States and other more highly developed countries.
Even where it is illegal, police usually tolerate passive panhandling, for both legal and practical reasons.2 Courts in some jurisdictions have ruled that passive panhandling is constitutionally protected activity.
Understanding the factors that contribute to your panhandling problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.
Panhandling intimidates some people, even causing some to avoid areas where they believe they will be panhandled.13 Onethird of San Franciscans surveyed said they gave money to panhandlers because they felt pressured, and avoided certain areas because of panhandling; nearly 40 percent expressed concern for their safety around panhandlers.14 But most studies conclude that intentional aggressive panhandling is rare, largely because panhandlers realize that using aggression reduces their income, and is more likely to get them arrested or otherwise draw police attention to them.15 Whether panhandling intimidates passersby depends, of course, on how aggressive or menacing the panhandler is, but it also depends on the context in which panhandling occurs.
Police must also be concerned with the welfare of panhandlers who are vulnerable to physical and verbal assault by other panhandlers, street robbers or passersby who react violently to being panhandled.6 Panhandlers often claim certain spots as their own territory, and disputes and fights over territory are not uncommon.7 †† In one study, 50 percent of panhandlers claimed to have been mugged within the past year (Goldstein 1993).
Broadly speaking, public policy perspectives on panhandling are of two types—the sympathetic view and the unsympathetic view.