Panhandling and The First Amendment
I'll start this with an anecdote that may not paint me in a positive light; I don't like being asked for money by strangers. I don't care if they are well dressed college age kids who "just need money for the bus" or middle aged men with 10 days growth of facial hair who "just need money for the bus." It's inconvenient and frustrating and overall a staggeringly inept form of helping those in need.
My state has had for years a statute banning panhandling in public areas. What this meant, in practice, is that hobos and drifters never went away, but the police could force them out of public areas and could technically arrest them. Our city actually has a pretty good network of charitable organizations such that these individuals never suffer for lack of a meal, and evn the people arrested are fed. The money they beg for has a statistically huge chance of going toward alcohol, with cigarettes and illegal drugs being right up there.
In August, the Federal District Court ruled that begging was a protected form of speech, akin to charitable solicitation. The consequence is that the number of drifters and hobos asking for money has skyrocketed, and unless they assault or defraud a person, the police cannot stop them.
I understand that free speech is a bedrock upon which this country is founded, and should not be curtailed because certain speech annoys the hell out of me and is detrimental to the very people who partake in these activities, by feeding addictions and circumventing existing safety nets. I still support laws that make panhandling illegal; but it's a tricky line to walk. How do you feel about begging being a legal activity in public areas?