On my old blog, I devoted a long post to thinking about moral and ethical responses to panhandling.
One economist suggested only giving money to those who are not asking for money; a playwright suggests giving when you feel charitable and holding back when you don't.
I was reminded of that old post by this Yahoo News article on a street panhandler who, when arrested, claimed to have made $60,000 last year from begging.
What made the article more interesting were the sociological bits of how this subculture operates, such as the "Hobo Rules" (which is different from the Hobo Code):
As the man explained, the hobo rules include never making verbal contact with drivers unless to say "thank you" and taking turns with other panhandlers in a 30-minute rotation.
The Hobo Rules define the fine line between soliciting for a charity and begging:
Panhandling, or begging, is to "request a donation in a supplicating manner" versus solicitation, which involves asking for a donation. The "Hobo Rule" of not making verbal contact with people before a donation is given seems to be what differentiates what panhandlers do from solicitation.
And maybe it's just me -- and who are we kidding, it is -- I found this paragraph fascinating in its explication of the city's attitude to policing panhandlers:
Begging is a right held by individuals or organizations, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oklahoma City has an ordinance on panhandling four pages long and includes specifications such as: No one can beg or solicit using manners, gestures or words that intimidate a reasonable person to believe his person or property are in threat of danger; blocking or interfering with the passage of a person or vehicle; and no begging or soliciting of people entering public buildings, in line for tickets, riding on public transportation, at ATMs, within 20 feet of outdoor seating for cafes or restaurants, nor at mass transportation stops.