Street Panhandlers Make News Again in Oklahoma

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Not to be confused with residents of the Oklahoma panhandle, the panhandlers of Oklahoma City who are again headline-worthy are of the cardboard sign-holding variety that can be seen at many of the city's busy intersections. An individual panhandler made national news in July when he told arresting officers he made $60,000 a year with his "vocation"; today the business of panhandling made Oklahoma news.

Panhandlers in Oklahoma Follow "Hobo Rules"

NewsOK.com interviewed a panhandler who was passing through Oklahoma while hitchhiking from Missouri to California. His funds ran out when he was in Canadian County, so for the last three weeks this 50-year-old man has been panhandling in Oklahoma City.

While admitting he has seen a few fistfights over who would occupy which corner, this panhandler who identifies himself as homeless explains that most panhandlers are peaceful, having adopted the "Hobo Rules." As the man explained, the hobo rules include never making verbal contact with drivers unless to say "thank you" and taking turns with other panhandlers in a 30-minute rotation.

What Is Panhandling?

How does panhandling differ from solicitation or even donations or fundraising? According to Street Sights, there's a very fine line between each of these. Panhandling, or begging, is to "request a donation in a supplicating manner" versus solicitation, which involves asking for a donation. The "Hobo Rule" of not making verbal contact with people before a donation is given seems to be what differentiates what panhandlers do from solicitation.

Donations are generally given to benefit charities or a cause; fundraising is asking for and receiving contributions from many individuals, groups or businesses.

Begging is a right held by individuals or organizations, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oklahoma City has an ordinance on panhandling four pages long and includes specifications such as: No one can beg or solicit using manners, gestures or words that intimidate a reasonable person to believe his person or property are in threat of danger; blocking or interfering with the passage of a person or vehicle; and no begging or soliciting of people entering public buildings, in line for tickets, riding on public transportation, at ATMs, within 20 feet of outdoor seating for cafes or restaurants, nor at mass transportation stops.

If Panhandlers are Homeless, What are We Doing for Them?

In a Home Alliance Task Force report, 20 percent of panhandlers were actually homeless, although a higher percentage identified themselves as such. The actual percentage may differ from week to week and many panhandlers are between jobs or trying to supplement their income from a job.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and the city council developed the Homeless Alliance in 2004 to help combat homelessness in the city by putting programs into place to aid those already homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless.

There are people on both sides of the issue about giving money to panhandlers. Which of the panhandlers are truly in need of monetary donations and which ones are "too lazy to get a job?" Policing panhandlers isn't a simple black and white issue, either, according to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. An arrest may result in the offender spending a couple days in jail -- and even that is on the taxpayer's dime.

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