Panhandling, or asking for money in public places, is quite a controversial thing to do and is sometimes considered illegal. Thus, you want to panhandle legally. Panhandling may be a way for you to make a living, but understand that it can also be annoying to some and even put you in danger. But there are ways to beg legally, avoid legal problems, and follow state laws and rules while still asking for the money.
How to panhandle legally
Follow these tips and you will be fine successfully panhandling.
1. Pick a friendly location
Pick a city that is panhandling-friendly. When previously panhandle-friendly neighborhoods become wealthier, the laws and the people living there will change, making it hard to stay ahead of the game.
Medium-sized to large cities tend to be friendlier to people asking for money than smaller towns. But college towns can be a good choice too for successful panhandling. There are a lot of young, idealistic students there who often have a lot of money and are open to a good story.
Choose a place where the weather is good. If you’re going to be outside all day, rain or shine, choose a spot where at least the sun will be out.
You also have to consider whether panhandling is legal in the area or not, otherwise, you can’t panhandle successfully. In California, aggressive panhandling such as accosting other persons in any public place or any place open to the public for begging is illegal—Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).
2. Hang around crowded areas
Make sure to be in a place where a lot of people walk by. To make the most money panhandling, go somewhere where you’ll meet a lot of different people who are easy-going. It helps if you and the other person are both walking. Subway stations, metro stops, truck stops, college campuses, and areas near other commuter zones are by far the most popular panhandling locations.
A high-yield opportunity is to stand right outside the entrance to a subway station. Every few minutes, different people walk through, so the turnover is high. Malls and shopping center staff and security guards who don’t like what you’re doing will not allow you to hang around.
Pick a place where there are a lot of cars. If you have a panhandling sign or the materials to make one, consider standing in a traffic median (the area between opposing lanes of traffic, excluding turn lanes) near an interstate on-ramp or a busy downtown street corner to be seen by many people in many cars without having to move or even talk.
3. Avoid rich neighborhoods
Avoid rich neighborhoods and areas with lots of expensive restaurants. It might make sense to go where people have lots of money but rich people are statistically the least likely to give money to panhandlers. Even if you are nice, people in these areas are more likely to call the cops, so stick to downtown business districts and areas where most people live.
4. Don’t stay in one place
Just keep moving. If you stand outside the same coffee shop every day, you’re likely to get in trouble with the staff. You’ll also quickly lose the support of the customers, making it too likely that you’ll have to deal with something uncomfortable. Also, at that point, you won’t be making any more money.
If possible, try not to go back to the same spot more than once a month. If you don’t have to stay in one place, you could make a circuit or route based on the weather. If you stay in New York in the summer, go to Boston in the early fall, Baltimore in the late fall, and Florida in the winter to sleep on the beach. Keep track of the places you go, sleep, and can work safely.
5. Be polite
Don’t get into trouble. When asking strangers for money, don’t be rude or aggressive. Just smile, be kind, and say “thank you” to everyone, even if they don’t give you anything.
Once you get along well with the people you ask for money from, they will be encouraged to give you money the next time you ask.
6. Make your story believable
Whether you tell people the truth or make up a story to collect money, you must sound like you’re telling the truth. If you need a bus ticket and ask for money to get one, it doesn’t matter if the person you ask thinks you’re going to buy alcohol.
Make your story fit where you are. If you want to ask for a bus ticket, consider being right next to a bus station carrying a bag. Have a place in mind you need to get to, such as Ohio, that is far away.
Your look should also fit your story. If you’re playing a lost traveler, it may not help your story if it looks like you’ve been sleeping outside for the past few months.
7. Specify why you need the money
Some people who ask for money on the street think that the best way to get money is to ask for a certain amount of money for a certain reason. For example, “I need 40 cents to buy a bus ticket. Can you help me?” is usually a better way to ask for what you need than “I need to buy a bus ticket.”
If you request a specific amount of money, people will be more likely to believe you. If you ask for a dollar, you might get some spare change, but if you ask for 40 cents, you might get a dollar.
8. Go straight to the point
Just say “Sorry to bother you, sir, but I need some money to buy something to eat.” Ask for one thing and say, “I need this because…”
The simplest way to panhandle legally can be to use a sign. You just need a piece of cardboard from a recycling bin or trash can and something to write with. Make the letters legible so that they are easy to read.
On the other hand, depending on how good you are with words and how much you know, being as vague as possible can be a good way to confuse someone and make them want to get rid of you and give you money at the same time. This works really well on people who are “from out of town” or college students.
9. Incorporate humor
Try to get people to laugh instead of making them feel sorry for you. A sign that reads, “I know where Bin Laden is. Need money for a flamethrower and a ticket” or “Why lie? I want a beer” might make someone laugh and give money.
Laughter can be very effective in a college town. Keep up with current events and the culture of the area to get a sense of what might be popular.
10. Do not forget the regulars
Learn their names and say hello if you see the same people going to work every day. If they know you want money, you won’t have to ask for it, and you’ll know they’ll give it if they want to. They’ll also be more likely to give if you’re a friendly face they see every day on their way to work and not a bother.
11. Don’t be mean
Don’t get angry or mean to people who don’t want to give you anything. Just be thankful to them and let them go.
Even if you’re in a good spot, you’ll be passed by someone else in a few seconds. Instead of dwelling on missed chances, it’s much better to move quickly through your daily tasks. If you keep at it, you’ll make more money.
12. Be nice to other panhandlers
Always be nice to other beggars, and don’t get into fights over who owns what. At the very least, you’ll avoid dangerous and unattractive fights, and you might even learn how to make new friends as well.
Look for signs that say “Do not solicit” or “Do not loiter.” Be careful to stay away from places even if they aren’t marked with these tags. You don’t want to upset anyone who might call the police, fight with you, or make a scene that makes you feel bad. Move forward and be nice.
Just move when someone tells you to. Avoid confrontations that could be dangerous at all costs, especially if you are alone and vulnerable. In general, it’s a good idea to keep moving, so if someone is getting annoyed by you, it’s time to leave.
13. Put away the money
Put your money away often. Robbers often target people who are asking for money. If you’ve been working all day, you might have quite a bit of cash and spare change. It’s not a good idea to always carry it with you.
Find a place to hide your money, or at least a lockbox or an instrument case that you can hide. Keep your money in different places on your person at the very least. Some in your shoes, some in your pockets, and so on. AGA Service Company recommends hiding your money in:
- Money belts
- Money socks
- Money-hiding shoes
- Stash underwear
- Money bra
- A hair roller
14. Avoid night panhandling
If you are legally begging for money, you should try not to do it at night. It’s more dangerous to beg at night, and there may be fewer people around to help if needed. Even daylight panhandling is not completely safe. For example, at 1.30 pm, an armless, wheelchair-bound panhandler was choked and robbed by a heartless thief in Manhattan. Also, many cities have laws against panhandling after dark, so it’s best not to do it at night to avoid getting in trouble with the law.
Best places to panhandle for money
Below are some of the best places where panhandlers make the most money:
1. Street corners
People often ask people for money on street corners because cars and people walking by can see them easily.
2. Shopping centers
There are always people walking around in shopping centers, so panhandlers like to hang out there and panhandle at Walmart.
3. Public transportation hubs
Bus stops, train stations, and other hubs of public transportation are often crowded, which makes them good places for people to ask for money.
Parks are popular places for panhandlers because they are peaceful places where people can sit and enjoy nature.
5. Tourist areas
Places like popular attractions or landmarks that draw a lot of tourists could be good places to ask for donations.
6. Outside worship centers
Panhandlers often stand outside of places of worship because people may be more likely to give money to those in need after going to a religious service.
Panhandlers often stand at the entrances and exits of freeways because passing cars can see them well.
8. Gas stations
Beggars often go to gas stations because they have a captive audience and a steady stream of people who might give them money.
9. Patios at restaurants and bars
The relaxed atmosphere of outdoor patios at restaurants and bars may make people more likely to give money to people in need.
Panhandling can be hard, but it is possible if you take the right steps. Know the laws in your area, choose your location wisely, be respectful and kind, use appropriate language and actions, be open and honest, and don’t beg at night. If you can’t beg, think of other ways to get help.
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