Begging is to entreat earnestly, implore, or supplicate. It often occurs for the purpose of securing a material benefit, generally for a gift, donation or charitable donation. When done in the context of a public place, it is known as "panhandling", perhaps because the hand and arm are extended like the handle of a cooking implement, and not infrequently, a kitchen implement such as a pot or cup may be used.[1]

Beggar, 1622, by Jacques Callot

According to a study in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, "(70%) stated that they would prefer a minimum-wage job, typically citing a desire for a 'steady income' or 'getting off the street.' However, many felt they could not handle conventional jobs because of mental illness, physical disability or lack of skills."[2]

Beggars may be found in public places such as transport routes, parks, and near busy markets. They mostly request money, but may also ask for cigarettes or other small items.


History of begging

In a 1786 James Gillray caricature, the plentiful money bags handed to King George III are contrasted with the beggar whose legs and arms were amputated, in the left corner

A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursitors, vulgarly called vagabonds was first published in 1566 by Thomas Harman. From early modern England other examples are Thomas Harman, and Robert Greene in his coney-catching pamphlets he titles of which included "The Defence of Conny-catching," in which he argued there were worse crimes to be found among "reputable" people. The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay. The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew was first published in 1745. There are similar writers for many European countries in the early modern period.[citation needed]

According to Jackson J. Spielvogel, "Poverty was a highly visible problem in the eighteenth century, both in cities and in the countryside... Beggars in Bologna were estimated at 25 percent of the population; in Mainz, figures indicate that 30 percent of the people were beggars or prostitutes... In France and Britain by the end of the century, an estimated 10 percent of the people depended on charity or begging for their food."[3]

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.

Children in Tamil Nadu, India, begging in front of a Catholic Church on Sunday 27 February 2010

In traditional Christianity, the rich were encouraged to serve the poor.

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 Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, 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.[4][5][6]

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.[citation needed]

Legal restriction of aggressive panhandling

A kindness meter in downtown Ottawa, Canada

The definition of so called "Aggressive panhandling" may vary. 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.[7]
  • Soliciting from customers inside a store or restaurant.[citation needed]
  • Soliciting after dark.[citation needed][dubious ]
  • Approaching individuals from behind, as they are exiting their vehicles, to solicit.
  • Soliciting in a loud voice, often accompanied with wild gesticulations.[7][citation needed][dubious ]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Invasion of personal space, cornering, blocking or inappropriate touching.[citation needed]
  • A "team" of several beggars approaching an individual at once, often surrounding the person.[citation needed]
  • "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.[dubious ]

A broad view of legal restrictions


Man begging in Vancouver in 2008.

The province of Ontario introduced its Safe Streets Act in 1999 to restrict specific kinds of begging, particularly certain narrowly-defined cases of "aggressive" or abusive panhandling.[8] In 2001 this law survived a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[9] The law was further upheld by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in January 2007.[10]

One response to the anti-panhandling laws which were passed was the creation of the Ottawa Panhandlers Union which fights for the political rights of panhandlers. The union is a shop of the Industrial Workers of the World.

British Columbia enacted its own Safe Streets Act in 2004 which resembles the Ontario law. There are also critics in that province who oppose such laws.[11]

United States

In 2004, the city of Orlando, Florida 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 50 feet (15 m) of any bank or automated teller machine. It is also[citation needed]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). In Santa Cruz, CA, there are regulations for panhandlers on where they can and cannot "spange" (beg for "spare change"). For example, they must be a certain distance away from the door of any business.[citation needed]

In parts of San Francisco, CA, aggressive panhandling is prohibited.[12]

In May 2010, police in the city of Boston started cracking down on panhandling in the streets in downtown, and were conducting an educational outreach to residents advising them not to give to panhandlers. The Boston police distinguished active solicitation, or aggressive panhandling, versus passive panhandling of which an example is opening doors at store with a cup in hand but saying nothing.[13]

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,[14] 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 the Poor Law was invalidated. In 2003, the Public Order Act replaced any local government rules and completely decriminalized begging.[15]

Louis Dewis, "The Old Beggar", Bordeaux, France, 1916
"The Man with the Twisted Lip", a beggar playing a major role in a Sherlock Holmes adventure.


US State Department Human Rights reports note a pattern of Roma children registered for "vagrancy and begging".[16]


Buddhist monks appear in public when begging for alms.[17] Although homelessness in Japan is not uncommon, such people rarely beg.


In Portugal, panhandlers normally beg in front of Catholic churches, on semaphores or on special places in Lisbon or Oporto downtowns. Begging is not illegal in Portugal. Many social and religious institutions support homeless people and panhandlers and the Portuguese Social Security normally gives them a survival monetary subsidy.

Use of funds

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 to Income and spending patterns among panhandlers, by Rohit Bose and Stephen W. Hwang.[18] 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.[19]

In North America, panhandling money is widely reported to support substance abuse and other addictions. For example, outreach workers in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 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.[20] In Midtown Manhattan, one outreach worker anecdotally commented to the New York Times that substance abuse accounts for 90 percent of panhandling funds.[21]

Communities reducing street begging

Because of concerns that people begging on the street may use the money to support alcohol or drug abuse, some advise those wishing to give to beggars to give gift cards or vouchers for food or services, and not cash.[20][22] Some shelters also offer business cards with information on the shelter's location and services, which can be given in lieu of cash.[23]

Notable beggars

See also


  1. ^ Webster's Third International Dictionary
  2. ^ . PMC 121964. 
  3. ^ Jackson J. Spielvogel (2008). "Western Civilization: Since 1500". Cengage Learning. p.566. ISBN 0495502871
  4. ^ 農禪vs商禪
  5. ^ 僧俗
  6. ^ 鐵鞋踏破心無礙 濁汗成泥意志堅——記山東博山正覺寺仁達法師
  7. ^ a b Johnny Johnson (November 3, 2008). In tough times, panhandling may increase in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman. 
  8. ^ "Safe Streets Act". Government of Ontario. 1999. Archived from the original on 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  9. ^ "'Squeegee kids' law upheld in Ontario". CBC News. 2001-08-03. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  10. ^ "Squeegee panhandling washed out by Ontario Appeal Court". CBC News. 2007-01-17. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  11. ^ "Police chief welcomes Safe Streets Act". CBC News. 2004-10-26. Archived from the original on 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  12. ^ Debate Continues Over Proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance, KTVU, 10 March 2010
  13. ^ Schuler, Melina, "Cops Planning to Combat Panhandling", The Boston Courant, May 14–20 issue, 2010. "Aggressive solicitation is against the law and is defined as an action that is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear harm or to intimidate him or her into compliance, Ivens said. Passive panhandling, like in front of a convenience store, is constitutionally allowed, however, it is a violation of a Boston ordinance to do it within 10 feet of an ATM, bank, or check cashing business during hours of operation, [Boston Police Captain Paul] Ivens said."
  14. ^ Bunyan, Nigel (2003-08-22). "Beggar ban may spark nationwide crackdown". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-04-26 
  15. ^ Authorities powerless to act against beggars with children in tow. Helsingin Sanomat. 
  16. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2006-03-08). "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005 (Romania)". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  17. ^ "The Zen - Teaching of Mu". Japan National Tourist Organisation. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  18. ^ Bose, Rohit and Hwang, Stephen W. (2002-09-03). "Income and spending patterns among panhandlers". Canadian Medical Association Journal. pp. 167(5): 477–479. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  19. ^ "Begging for Data". Canstats. 3 September 2002. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  20. ^ a b ""Change for the Better" fact sheet" (PDF). Downtown Winnipeg Biz. Archived from the original on 2006-08-13. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  21. ^ Tierney, John (1999-12-04). "The Big City; The Handout That's No Help To the Needy". The New York Times. p. B1. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  22. ^ "Real Change, not Spare Change". Portland Business Alliance. Retrieved 2006-09-30. 
  23. ^ Peace Studies Program. "Homelessness Contact Cards". George Washington University. Retrieved 2006-09-30. 
  24. ^

Further reading

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