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For the 2009 album by Thrice, see Beggars

Begging (or panhandling) is to request a donation in a supplicating manner. Beggars are commonly found in public places such as street corners or public transport, where they request money, most commonly in the form of spare change. They may use cups, boxes or hats to collect the donations.

History of begging

There are few current techniques for begging which have not been used for hundreds of years, or are not based on older techniques, adapted to modern technology. Beggars rarely recorded their techniques, and often used to disguise their own communication. What is known of them is largely from records of law enforcement, penitential or rogue literature. From early modern England the best examples are Thomas Harman, and Robert Greene in his coney-catching pamphlets. There is no reason to suppose that what he recorded was new. There are similar writers for many European countries in the early modern period.

Begging and spirituality

In some countries begging is much more tolerated and in certain cases encouraged. In many, perhaps most, traditional religions, it is considered that a person who gives alms to a worthy beggar, such as a spiritual seeker, gains religious merit.

Many religious orders adhere to a mendicant way of life, including the Catholic mendicant orders, Hindu ascetics, some dervishes of Sufi Islam, and the monastic orders of Buddhism. In the Catholic Church, followers of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic became known as mendicants, as they would beg for food while they preached to the villages.

In traditional Christianity, the rich were encouraged to serve the poor. Speaking of criminals, prostitutes, beggars, and other people despised by society, Jesus said, "I am the least of these," which is taken to mean that giving to a beggar is the equivalent of giving to Jesus himself.

Beggar in Pune, India, May 2003
In many Hindu traditions, spiritual seekers, known as sadhus, beg for food. This is because fruitive activity, such as farming or shopkeeping, is regarded as a materialistic distraction from the search for moksha, or spiritual liberation. Begging, on the other hand, promotes humility and gratitude, not only towards the individuals who are giving food, but towards the Universe in general. This helps the sadhu attain a state of bliss or samādhi.

In traditional Shaivite Hinduism , old men, having lived a full life as a householder in the world, frequently give up materialistic possessions and become wandering ascetic mendicants (sadhus), spending their last months or years seeking spiritual enlightenment. Villagers gain religious merit by giving food and other necessities to these ascetics.

In Buddhism, monks and nuns traditionally live by begging for alms, as did the historical Gautama Buddha himself. This is, among other reasons, so that lay people can gain religious merit by giving food, medicines, and other essential items to the monks. The monks seldom need to plead for food; in villages and towns throughout modern Thailandmarker, Cambodiamarker, Vietnammarker, and other Buddhist countries, householders can often be found at dawn every morning streaming down the road to the local temple to give food to the monks. In East Asia, monks and nuns were expected to farm or work for returns to feed themselves up.

There is also a long traditional of rather less spiritual beggars, in India and elsewhere, who are simply begging as a means to obtain material wealth. Some are even beggars for generations, and continue their family tradition of begging. A few beggars in the subcontinent even have sizable wealth, which they accumulate by "employing" other, newer beggars. They can claim to have territories, and then may engage in verbal and physical abuse of encroaching beggars.

Aggressive panhandling

The definition of so called "Aggressive panhandling" may vary in time and space. In the USA, aggressive panhandling generally involves the solicitation of donations in an intimidating or intrusive manner. Examples may include:
  • Soliciting near ATM banking machines.
  • Soliciting from customers inside a store or restaurant.
  • Placing an item (like a pack of bubble gum) next to a written sob story, offering the item as a gift, and asking for a contribution.
  • Extending the head and both arms, or even the hand, into a car window to solicit.
  • Soliciting after dark.
  • Approaching individuals from behind, as they are exiting their vehicles, to solicit.
  • Soliciting in a loud voice, often accompanied with wild gesticulations.
  • The use of insults, profanity, or veiled threats.
  • Refusing to take "No" for an answer or following an individual.
  • Demanding more money after a donation has been given.
  • Invasion of personal space, cornering, blocking or inappropriate touching.
  • A "team" of several beggars approaching an individual at once, often surrounding the person.
  • "Camping out" in a spot where begging negatively influences some other business (such as in front of a store or restaurant) in the hope that the business owner will give money to make the beggar go away.
  • Use of sales pitch techniques and appeals to emotion.

Restriction of beggars


The province of Ontariomarker introduced its Safe Streets Act in 1999 to restrict specific kinds of begging, particularly certain narrowly-defined cases of "aggressive" or abusive panhandling. In 2001 this law survived a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law was further upheld by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in January 2007.

British Columbiamarker enacted its own Safe Streets Act in 2004 which resembles the Ontario law. There are also critics in that province who oppose such laws.

Child beggars are heavily common in the inner city areas of Torontomarker and Vancouvermarker, and Canada has the most frequency of begging in the industrialized world.

United States

In many larger cities, such as Chicago, Illinoismarker, panhandling has been banned. In Chicago, there are a number of signs at regular intervals reminding people that peddling is banned. This rarely dissuades the beggar, and the constitutionality of such bans has not been firmly established by case law. In 2004, the city of Orlando, Floridamarker passed an ordinance (Orlando Municipal Code section 43.86) requiring panhandlers to obtain a permit from the municipal police department. The ordinance further makes it a crime to panhandle in the commercial core of downtown Orlando, as well as within of any bank or automated teller machine. It is also considered a crime in Orlando for panhandlers to make false or untrue statements, or to disguise themselves, to solicit money, and to use money obtained for a claim of a specific purpose (e.g. food) to be spent on anything else (e.g. drugs). The potential for these latter restrictions to be enforced is minimal.

In Santa Cruz, CAmarker, there are regulations for panhandlers on where they can and cannot "Spange". For example, they must be a certain distance away from the door of any business.

In parts of San Francisco, CAmarker, aggressive panhandling is prohibited.

The Atlanta, Georgiamarker, city council approved a ban on panhandling on August 16, 2005, and Mayor Shirley Franklin is expected to sign the ban into law.

However, vagrancy laws, which are sometimes proposed to curb panhandlers, have been outlawed in the US, by and large, since the 1970s. It is not a crime to be poor or "vagrant."

United Kingdom

Begging is illegal under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. However it does not carry a jail sentence and is not well enforced in many cities , although since the Act applies in all public places it is enforced more frequently on public transport.


Begging has been legal in Finland since 1987 when Poor Law was invalidated. In 2003, Public Order Act replaced any local government rules and completely decriminalized begging.

In various nations


In Europe, women from the poorer countries of the continent are sometimes forced by organized gangs to beg in cities in Western Europe such as Barcelonamarker, the proceeds being collected by the gangs.


Begging is illegal under the Article 1, 22 of Minor Offense Law.Buddhist monks in Japan may remain in their monasteries, only appearing in public when begging for alms.Otherwise, street begging is generally not practiced, even by that nation's estimated 24,000 homeless people.

Use of funds

A common criticism of beggars is that they spend money received on irresponsible or unnecessary items, particularly on drugs, alcohol or tobacco. This is often stated as a reason for not giving money to panhandlers. Also, in many communities in developed countries, various state and private charitable social services may be available such as welfare, soup kitchens and homeless shelters that may reduce any survival need for begging.

A 2002 study of 54 panhandlers in Toronto reported that of a median monthly income of $638 Canadian dollars (CAD), those interviewed spent a median of $200 CAD on food and $192 CAD on alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, according toIncome and spending patterns among panhandlers, by Rohit Bose and Stephen W. Hwang. The Fraser Institute criticized this study citing problems with potential exclusion of lucrative forms of begging and the unreliability of reports from the panhandlers who were polled in the Bose/Hwang study.

In North America, panhandling money is widely reported to support substance abuse and other addictions. For example, outreach workers in downtown Winnipeg, Manitobamarker, Canadamarker, surveyed that city's panhandling community and determined that approximately three-quarters use donated money to buy tobacco products while two-thirds buy solvents or alcohol. In Midtown Manhattan, one outreach worker anecdotally commented to the New York Times that substance abuse accounts for 90 percent of panhandling funds.

Because of this, some advise those wishing to give to beggars to give gift cards or vouchers for food or services, and not cash. Some shelters also offer business cards with information on the shelter's location and services, which can be given in lieu of cash.

Begging on the Internet

Begging like other activities has also adapted to the net taking on an "e-panhandling" role. Instead of begging on the streets, cyber panhandlers set up a website where they "beg" for money. Later variants tried to request money for their personal needs that were beyond their financial ability with some success. Begging has also become commonplace in the chatrooms of various gambling and poker websites. In poker sites, one will frequently see someone claiming that they are so good at the game that if someone lends them 10 dollars, that they'll have it back to the lender with interest in a very short period of time. These may be desperate gaming addicts who have run dry, or they may not gamble at all and simply withdraw the money for their own use.Players of online games may beg for in-game currency, such as Gold in MMO or Lindens in Second Life, which can be converted to real world currency.

Notable beggars

See also


Further material

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