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Nationwide Effort Calls for Housing, Not Handcuffs

by National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
(July 17, 2019, Washington, D.C.) – Today, the #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign launched its second round of a nationwide effort to strike down bans on panhandling and to replace them with more constructive policies that address the root causes of homelessness. Since the 2015 decision in Norton v. Springfield that found any targeting of speech asking for donations for punishment invokes the strictest scrutiny under First Amendment protections, every ordinance limiting panhandling, begging, or soliciting donations challenged in court has been found unconstitutional—36 to date—and at least an additional 31 cities have repealed their ordinances without litigation. Advocates in eight states are demanding 37 cities repeal panhandling bans and redirect resources to housing and other support for people experiencing homelessness. This campaign is part of the broader Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign launched in 2016.
“No one wants to see poor people have to beg for money,” said Eric Tars, legal director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “But communities that meet people’s basic needs for income, housing, and services are solving the problem permanently, and at a lower cost, than those continuing to counterproductively fine and arrest those who need to ask for help.”

Some communities, such as Albuquerque, NM and Syracuse, NY have implemented day labor programs to provide income and access to services for panhandlers, others such as Philadelphia, PA have created day shelters the give people experiencing homelessness a safe place to stay out of the elements, reducing people asking commuters for donations. Charlotte, NC created permanent supportive housing units and saw the nights its formerly homeless residents spent in jail drop by 89%, saving the city more than $2.4 million in its first two years alone.

Sue Wells, a currently homeless member of the Homeless Union of Greensboro, North Carolina, explained, “We don’t panhandle because we want to. We do it because all of us need to put food in our stomachs. Most of the time, people are just trying to pay rent, or pay a bill or get bus fare.”

The Law Center is coordinating with legal organizations and advocates in eight states to send letters to communities with panhandling ordinances similar to the ones that have been found unconstitutional demanding those laws be repealed. Partner organizations include: ACLU of Delaware, ACLU of Illinois, ACLU of Iowa, ACLU of Mississippi, Central LA Homeless Coalition, Chicago Coalition For the Homeless, HerStory Ensemble (DE), The House of Hope CDC (RI), New York ACLU, On the Streets Committee (WV), and Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. Local partners will also stress to members of their communities why this issue is important on a local level, and emphasize that repealing the ordinances is a necessary first step, but it must be followed by further steps to provide support for those who need to ask for help.

“Punishing homeless people with fines, fees, and arrests simply for asking for help will only prolong their homelessness,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the Law Center. “Housing, jobs, and services are the only true solutions to homelessness in our communities.”

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, National Coalition for the Homeless, and more than 100 other organizations launched the Housing Not Handcuffs campaign in 2016 to place emphasis on housing as a solution to homelessness instead of punishing homeless people with fines and fees. For more information on the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign, visit

This is the second year of this national effort targeting anti-panhandling ordinances. To date more than 70 cities (and counting) have repealed, reviewed, or readdressed their panhandling ordinances as a direct result of these efforts. See for more information.


The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education.
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