While there is no statewide prohibition on panhandling, publicly asking for money or assistance can be illegal under certain circumstances, and might be charged as a misdemeanor. Many cities have enacted ordinances that prohibit panhandling in certain forms.
The First Amendment prohibits an outright ban of all panhandling, so cities have crafted ordinances they hope will withstand scrutiny. For instance, the City of Fort Worth prohibits solicitation, begging, and panhandling when:
Many cities across Texas have similar ordinances, including:
Dallas: Sec. 31-35. Solicitation by Coercion
Fort Worth: Sec. 30-16 Aggressive Panhandling or Solicitation
San Antonio: Sec. 21-29 Aggressive Solicitation
Houston: Sec. 28-46 Aggressive Panhandling
In 2017, Fort Worth police issued more than 1000 panhandling related citations. Criminal consequences aside, giving money to panhandlers raises other concerns: Are the panhandlers who you see downtown or on Magnolia truly in need – or are they just taking advantage of visitors and couples out on dates? As someone who has participated in the annual homeless count, I can tell you that the truly needy are often far from the public eye. What can you do to help?
Earlier this year, a group of civic and business organizations and the city of Fort Worth launched a public education campaign designed to cut down on panhandling and help people out of homelessness. The campaign, dubbed “A Better Way to Offer Change,” encourages people who would normally give a panhandler change to instead donate money via a text message to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. The money can help people pay housing application fees or buy a bus ticket or motel vouches for stranded people. (Text GIVETCHS or FWCHANGE to 41444 to give now.)
Betsy Beaman, Director of Communications for the Presbyterian Night Shelter, was also kind enough to share a wealth of information about what you can do to help the homeless, which is included below.
If you were charged with panhandling in Fort Worth, talk to a knowledgeable and skilled lawyer at our firm to better understand how to proceed.