Handling Panhandling

Some of us might move to the other side of the street, avert our eyes or brush it off. Either way, panhandling, the asking of money in public spaces, makes most of us uncomfortable.

Most panhandlers (although not all) are experiencing homelessness. In many cities, panhandling is considered free speech and is protected by the first amendment. Some may encounter those who are panhandling on a daily basis or during a trip to most larger cities. In the areas adjacent to Laguna Woods Village, such as in retail parking lots or outside of gas stations, we might encounter folks asking for spare change or offering to perform a task in exchange for money.

Under Penal Code 647c, aggressive panhandling in California is illegal. However, passive panhandling, or the act of sitting in a public area holding a sign asking for money, is not.

Here are some tips for responding responsibly, directly and compassionately to passive or aggressive panhandlers.

  1. Recognize a panhandler’s humanity while remaining alert. Give a quick nod or good-day wishes. Whether or not you give money is your call.
  2. If you wish to give money, have it out and ready to give. Never go into wallets, pockets or purses in front of panhandlers.
  3. If you do not want to give money, walk purposefully and confidently toward your intended destination. Give the appearance that you are aware of your surroundings. Acknowledge the panhandler and answer their request for money with a firm “No, thank you.” Then continue on your way. Do not feel angry or guilty.
  4. If you feel threatened or intimidated by an aggressive panhandler, call the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at its nonemergency dispatch number, 714-647-7000 or 949-770-6011. Be prepared to describe the panhandler as well as share the location of the event, the time it occurred and the panhandler’s direction of travel. 
  5. If you witness a crime in progress, dial 9-1-1.

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