Panhandling

Panhandling is an issue that is often linked with homelessness, even though studies show that many panhandlers are not homeless. The City of Bellevue continues to work with the community and human service organizations to strategically address these complicated issues. Here’s general information on panhandling along with several tips on how you can effectively assist those in need.

What is panhandling?

The term “panhandling” traditionally refers to asking for money in a public space. Courts have ruled that it is protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Panhandling is not illegal unless the individual is blocking you or harassing you in some fashion.

If you witness or experience aggressive panhandling, call 911 and provide a brief description of the individual and their location.

Why say “no” to panhandlers?

Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle and only a small percentage of those who panhandle are homeless. Those who panhandle target locations where there are a lot of pedestrians and motorists. As a result, the average daily income from panhandling can be up to $50 to $60 a day.

Instead of giving money, please consider donating your time or money to a local human services organization (see resources below).

How is the city addressing panhandling?

Panhandling is not illegal unless the individual is blocking you or harassing you in some fashion. If you witness or experience aggressive panhandling, call 911 and provide a brief description of the individual and their location.

How can I help?

Many people give money to people with signs on the street because they want to help someone who appears to be struggling. However, offering cash provides only a very short-term intervention for one individual who may or may not be homeless. Consider these options instead:

  • Share the Bellevue panhandling handout with friends.
  • Provide a community resource card, which contains information on organizations that can help people in need, to panhandlers.
  • Offer a food item and/or water.
  • Consider donating to and/or volunteering with local organizations that focus on getting people off the street.