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While there is no statewide prohibition against panhandling in Texas, publicly asking for money or assistance can be illegal under certain circumstances – specifically, if it considered “aggressive.” Many cities have enacted ordinances that prohibit panhandling in certain forms which can be punished as a misdemeanor.
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
San Antonio: Sec. 21-29 Aggressive Solicitation
Houston: Sec. 28-46 Aggressive Panhandling
The punishment for aggressive panhandling is usually a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine. For example, violating panhandling ordinances in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston can result in a fine of up to $500 or community service.
Criminal consequences aside, giving money to panhandlers raises other concerns: Are the panhandlers who you see downtown or on Lancaster Street in Fort Worth truly in need – or are they 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?
In 2018, 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.)
If you were charged with panhandling in Fort Worth, it’s important to talk to an attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and understand the best way to proceed.