Atlanta Bans Panhandling

If you would like to go on vacation without worry of being hassled by beggars, Atlanta may be the destination for you — especially if you’re black and gay.

Atlanta Lawmakers Approve Panhandling Ban (AP)

Protesters yelled “Shame!” and “Crybaby!” as city council members approved a ban on panhandling near tourist attractions, but the mayor is expected to sign the legislation.

The ordinance, approved 12-3 Monday, makes it illegal to ask strangers for food or money near downtown museums and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The measure was pushed by business owners who say the area is awash in aggressive beggars, but it got spirited opposition from civil rights groups and advocates for the poor. The ordinance will become law when Mayor Shirley Franklin signs it. Franklin has said she supports the panhandling ban, but a time for her to sign the bill hasn’t been set, said her spokeswoman, Catherine Woodling.

The vote capped a summer of debate over the proposal, pitched by a business group in advance of a large aquarium opening downtown in November. The council delayed the vote at least three times because of protests.

Some argued the panhandling ban was an illegal limit on speech. One council member who supported the ordinance, Felicia A. Moore, said before casting her vote: “I’m not sure if it’s constitutional or not.” On the eve of Monday’s vote, several dozen protesters camped on the lawn of city hall, and the crowd swelled to more than 200 by the time the council met. “The ability to ask for alms is a God-given ability. You can pass laws to protect trees, but what about human beings? God help us!” protester Elisabeth Omilami told council members.

One can scarcely imagine the constitutional grounds upon which this would be overturned by the courts. “Gimme twenty dollars” is hardly a political message and, in any case, the courts have long upheld time, place, and manner restrictions on even political speech.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ALS says:

    This strikes me as a silly law, likely to backfire. How can they truly enforce it?

    I read elsewhere that a 3rd offense will result in a fine. Hello? How much sense does that make? People begging for spare change are somehow going to pay a $1,000 fine?

    I’m no longer a Georgia resident, so I guess it’s really none of my business. But I do visit Atlanta, and it seems to me that the legislature could better serve the public good by addressing some of the root issues of poverty, rather than making laws that amount to a proverbial see-no-evil policy.

    Building more homeless shelters would be a nice start.

  2. Mark says:

    I prefer the Sam Kinison solution to the homeless: execution! Heh.

  3. Fersboo says:

    The City of Atlanta should give them a one-way bus ticket to San Francisco. You know, for the health benefit of that great Bay Area climate. I’m just sayin’, thats all.

  4. Michael says:

    ALS: The root causes of poverty? Well, aside from the very few who are mentally disabled, I’d say the root causes of poverty are stupid choices and an unwillingness to work.

    Oh, and pissing all over a guy who gives $600k to homeless shelters isn’t much help either.

  5. slickdpdx says:

    Despite your common sense analysis, the courts in New York have ruled such laws unconstituitional, resulting in having to pass “aggressive panhandling” statutes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta finds itself having to do the same thing.
    The best remedy for this problem is for people to stop giving handouts to bums and direct their charity to charitable causes and organizations instead. ALS: handouts contribute to the problem. Donations contribute toward some kind of solution. Of course, some might resent that those donations follow their subsidization of housing, welfare, SSI, and so on. Why subsidize these programs if they’re not preventing begging? (And never will. There is no limit to the amount of money a person is willing to collect. Although there may be a magic number to stop at, say ten for a ten dollar bag, five dollars for a six-pack, or whatever.)

  6. slickdpdx says:

    Additionally, nothing contributes to poverty like unemployment. Panhandlers hamper economic development where they are permitted to flourish.

  7. ALS says:

    The best remedy for this problem is for people to stop giving handouts to bums and direct their charity to charitable causes and organizations instead. ALS: handouts contribute to the problem. Donations contribute toward some kind of solution

    Pardon me while I laugh… you sound like you’re talking to a liberal. Guess you haven’t read much of what I’ve had to say on OTB.

    Nowhere in any of my posts did I say I wanted to give homeless people handouts and free money. There are roughly 7,000 homeless in Atlanta, with only 400 beds in Atlanta homeless shelters.

    As much as we’d like to wish them all to work, the sad reality is that there will always be homeless people, for whatever reasons, in big cities.

    And sorry, I just think passing a law that criminalizes asking for money is silly. It’s not going to do anything to address the problem. Does it make homeless people suddenly not homeless? Of course not. It doesn’t even stop panhandling, either. Ask other cities that have tried it. It just forces the panhandlers to other parts of the city. Especially in the case of this Atlanta law, since it only outlaws panhandling in the tourist district.

    They could put more into city homeless shelters – job training and placement services would be a start.

    And no one says it has to be tax dollars to do it.

  8. Scott in CA says:

    No, you will NOT send them to San Francisco. That’s where I am. We have a new program to send homeless people back to wherever they want to go, as long as a phone call verifies that someone is willing to meet them on the other end. We send about 70 people a week home now. We also cut their county general assistance checks from $400 to $59. Amazingly, our homeless general assistance population has dropped from near 3000 to less than 450. We also offer shelter beds that lead to permanent housing in about 6 months. For some strange reason, over half of them refuse the shelter. That’s not what they want, and we all know it. We also banned panhandling on freeway on and off ramps, near ATMs, near bus stops, etc. It survived the courts. We also have Business Improvement Districts all over town that hire private security to “suggest” that they move along. It’s all working. You just have to keep at it and fight the lawsuits.

  9. Fersboo says:

    So Scott in CA, are you saying that when I breeze through SF this weekend with the kids, I won’t be accosted on just about every street corner? Nor will the smell of urine dominate the parks? Outstanding!

    Note: I’ve got nothing against SF’ers (except the politics and the 49’ers (Go G-men)) and the wife wants to move there (yeah, you call me a work-aholic now, how many hours as an accountant do I need to work to live in SF?).

  10. anjin-san says:

    Ya know, Fersboo sounds like a Bakersfield kind of guy to me…

  11. Russ says:

    I have heard all the arguments about this supposed “attack” on the poor. There can be a big difference between being homeless and being poor. I live in downtown Atlanta and if there are attacks it is usually our homeless vagrants doing the attacking. The attacks come in many manifestations. Urinating and defecating in restaurant and office doorways has nothing to do with the right to ask for money, does it? Build more homeless shelters? The homeless shelters are everywhere downtown…but the complaint by the staff’s are that they go unused except at feeding time and when it’s 10 degrees aoutside. Ask any church volunteer who has spent time at one. Downtown revitalization projects have twice been attacked and destroyed by homeless arsonists, one just last month, by making campfires in buildings under construction causing millions of dollars in damage. Downtown, two major law firms employing thousands of people have vacated an entired 40 story building here because they had a tough time attracting talent to live and work in the desolation that is downtown Atlanta. Parents of prospective college students who live outside the city, fearful for their kids safety, readily dismiss the idea of their students attending Georgia State University, or as it is better known, Ghetto U. because every year a GSU student is brutally attacked by a predator decribed by the media as “homeless.” Business travel and convention planners look for somewhere else to send their money spending conferees after only one trip to “the homeless city”. After they get their employees feedback of being marooned in a virtually empty downtown Atlanta, panhandled on every block and with few remaining shops and restaurants open during the day, let alone at night, because business has fled, they seldom return. The little guy with the diner or the shoestore or the pizza place, who depends on convention traffic gets killed. When business is good, won’t he hire a person who needs work? Danger:Rhetorical question. We lost a major regional outdoor arts and crafts show to Raleigh and the nation’s largest computer show, because it was reported that Atlanta was becoming “seedy”. Seedy is a compliment.. I think they meant “composty.” Want to know the reality? Despite years of revitalization Atlanta continues to be the premier Southern embarassment city with few cultural amenities for a city of its size, very little green space and a crime rate second only to Washington, D.C. When progressive Atlanta politicians like Shirley Franklin advocate moves that will bring business, opportunity and now some semblence of public order to the chaos that is Atlanta they are accused of heartlessness by the professional so-called “civil rights advocates” who safely advocate panaceas yet never contribute toconcrete solutions. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want job training for the poor or good housing. Easy to advocate and pontificate…but, where do you get the money when the tax base moves out of town, geniuses? These advocates also, by the way, make their money primarily by handouts and by leaning on companies who are afraid of being called racist. The proposed 24 million dollar aquarium site in downtown is completely appropriate, being near the other feeding frenzy called City Hall. Cleaning out aggressive homeless vagrants, street thugs, street smart scam artists, and professional “will work for food artists” is only the tip of the iceberg if Atlanta wants to be taken seriously by anybody, business or the public. Of course, if you live here and disagree with me then, by all means, please feel free to walk down my street, man-up and do your part to prove your point, and take one of these sweet smelling homeless mumbling winos or crack-heads, your choice, home with you. If charity starts at home…I’d rather it be in YOURS.