Excerpts from an article in the fine City Journal (http://www.city-journal.org/
The Professional Panhandling Plagueby Steven Malangahttp://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_3_panhandling.html
...Over the last several years, the urban resurgence has proved an irresistible draw to a new generation of spangers. And while New York City’s aggressive emphasis on quality-of-life policing under two successive mayors has kept them at bay, less vigilant cities have been overwhelmed. Indeed, panhandling is epidemic in many places—from cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Memphis, Orlando, and Albuquerque to smaller college towns like Berkeley. “People in New York would be shocked at what one encounters in other cities these days, where the panhandling can be very intimidating,” says Daniel Biederman, a cofounder of three business improvement districts in Manhattan, including the Grand Central Partnership, which grappled effectively with homelessness in the city’s historic train station in the early 1990s. “Panhandling has gotten especially bad in cities that have a reputation for being liberal and tolerant. They have tried to be open-minded, but now many of them see the problem as out of control."
...In Orlando, panhandlers have started entering downtown offices and asking receptionists for money, prompting businesses to lock the doors. San Francisco police have identified 39 beggars who have received five or more citations for aggressive panhandling, racking up a total of 447 citations. Tourist guidebooks and online sites are replete with warnings from travelers. A business visitor to Nashville, sharing his experiences on Fodor.com, writes: “Every day I was there I was not just approached but grabbed or touched by folks asking for money.” A traveler to San Francisco, describing his trip on Virtualtourist.com, warns prospective tourists about the pervasiveness of persistent beggars: “If you come to San Francisco and are not hit up for change, you have spent too much time in your hotel room.”
...Yet even as cities experiment with new approaches, those traditionally opposed to restrictions on panhandling are fighting back—notably, civil liberties groups and some homeless advocates, who oppose any actions that might criminalize conduct by even a minority of the homeless. In 2003, San Francisco residents overwhelmingly passed a ballot proposition authored by then-supervisor (and now mayor) Gavin Newsom outlawing in-your-face panhandling. But the ordinance has been ineffective because scores of volunteer lawyers, many from the city’s biggest law firms, have fought every citation. People cited for panhandling don’t even need to appear in court. They simply drop their citations in boxes at various advocacy groups, and the lawyers pick them up and appear in court, where judges have ruled that cops must file lengthy reports in order to get a conviction. The courts are dismissing about 85 percent of all tickets handed out under the ordinance, frustrating police, prosecutors, politicians, and residents who voted for it. “If you had been here several years ago, before the ordinance passed, and came back today, you wouldn’t see a difference in the level of panhandling. There’s as much as ever,” says supervisor Sean Elsbernd.