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As panhandling gets out of hand, new law proposed

With the strongest economy in 60 years, you would think that panhandling on street corners would decline. Not so in most American cities–including Kansas City.

While many are truly in need, the practice can also be a money cow that is abused by those preying on the generosity and emotions of drivers and pedestrians on city streets.

Kansas City lawmakers hope a recently proposed ordinance will stop panhandling in traffic without violating the First Amendment.

Kansas City Councilwoman Teresa Loar introduced the ordinance Thursday, which doesn’t use the word “panhandle.” The ordinance instead says pedestrians can only be on a median, traffic island or non-sidewalk area near a highway ramp for as long as it takes to cross safely.

Courts across the U.S. have dismissed laws banning panhandlers on the grounds that they violate free expression rights. The proposed ordinance seeks to maneuver around the issue by focusing on pedestrian safety.

Loar says the ordinance is needed as the city is seeing an increase in complaints about panhandling.

The council’s transportation and infrastructure committee will hold a public hearing on the ordinance.


Kansas City Police Community Interaction Officer William Keeney provides some insight into panhandling and how to deal with it.

“Panhandling is synonymous with begging and typically involves individuals soliciting for cash,” Keeney says. “However, panhandlers may also solicit donations in exchange for nominal labor, such as cleaning windshields, saving parking spaces, guarding parked cars, or helping to carry groceries. While panhandlers are typically passive, some may become aggressive by soliciting in a coercive or threatening manner. Panhandling is often viewed as an indication of social deterioration that can lead to more serious crime.”

Keeney shares that panhandling is most often associated with the homeless and mentally ill but they may be neither.

He also says they may have criminal records and most often use

the money collected for for alcohol, drugs, and food.


Panhandlers are looking for sympathy and target those they think may be shamed into helping them.

“Panhandlers target individuals perceived to be sympathetic or generous, such as male-female couples, conventioneers or tourists, college students, women, and grocery shoppers,” He says.


The Kansas City Police Department says Panhandlers strategically target areas where soliciting yields high returns, such as areas of high pedestrian or vehicular traffic like at s top signs of busy intersections. Common panhandling locations include: ATMs, freeway entrances or exits; grocery or convenience stores; and crowded sidewalks. “Other environments that attract panhandlers include areas that provide seating, easy access to restrooms or water, and unsecured trash bins,” he shares. “Transient panhandlers also migrate to areas where the climate is warmer during the winter months.”