Ruth Tharpe, 49, held a sign asking for money or other donations at the corner of Keowee Street and Wayne Avenue on Thursday morning, Aug. 4, 2016. KATIE WEDELL/STAFF
Photo: Katie Wedell/STAFF
Photo: Katie Wedell/STAFF

Why does it seem like there has been an increase in panhandlers?

Have you been wondering why there are more panhandlers around the Miami Valley?

Here is the short answer officials gave this news organization: it is legal now. 

Dayton Police Lt. James Mullins said the number of panhandlers operating in and around Dayton jumped following a law change.

“Once our law changed, they started coming out there a whole lot more than they were previously,” he said. “Some of these people panhandling are not in need of food. It is an easy way to make money.”

NEW PROGRAM IN THE WORKS 

Michelle Riley, the executive director of the Dayton Foodbank, said a program is being designed with Dayton police and other concerned organizations to encourage people to give to groups that support homeless people and not to panhandlers.

As part of that program, signs would be placed in areas encouraging people to donate to charities. 

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE OLD LAW? 

➡️ The city cracked started cracking down on panhandlers in 2011 with a controversial law that had panhandlers who violated the law jailed instead of citing them. 

Solicitors were required to register and obtain permits. Begging times were restricted to certain hours.

>> MORE: Downtown group to discuss panhandling fixes

➡️ In July 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on content-based speech are unconstitutional. Following that ruling, several federal appellate courts ruled anti-panhandling regulations violate freedom of speech protections.

➡️ The city of Dayton axed its registration program in July of 2016. More than 1,140 panhandlers were arrested in the city, mostly for registration-related offenses under the law.

Since Dayton changed its laws on panhandling in August, the city's intersections have seen an explosion of people begging for money. BRIAN KOLLARS / STAFF
Photo: HANDOUT

>> MORE: 5 things to know about Dayton panhandling laws

WHAT CAN BE DONE LEGALLY

Mullins, who works mainly in Dayton Central Business District which includes downtown Dayton and the Oregon District,  said there is little the city can do about panhandlers. 

“Standing there and asking for money (is not illegal),” he said. “Stepping in the street, that changes things.”

➡️  The city’s ordinance now prohibits distribution of any item with an occupant of a vehicle in the right-of-way if he or she is stopped at a traffic signal. 

WHAT DO OFFICIALS SAY PEOPLE SHOULD DO?

Panhandlers and other solicitors cannot legally enter the right-of-way for distribution.

Mullins said the number of people panhandling in Dayton has stayed consistent since the law changed. Aside from a few newcomers, he said it is generally the same faces daily. 

“They actually have fights over their turf,” he said. “They are pretty established.”

He urged people to give to nonprofits that serve the needy, and asked those considering giving to panhandlers to evaluate the area panhandler’s surroundings. He said they often have food and drinks that others have given to them as proof that “maybe they are not as needy as they are claiming to be.” 

“The best way to stop this is not to give them money,” Mullin said. “If the income stops coming in, they are going to leave and go somewhere else.”  

>>MORE: 7 DOWNTOWN DAYTON PARKING HACKS

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Riley said hunger is a very real issue in the Dayton area. 

Nearly 124,000 people — 36,600 of those children — experience food insecurity in Greene, Preble and Montgomery counties, according to the 2017 Map the Meal Gap study

“One in six people are hungry,” Riley said.  

Panhandlers hurt those actually in need, she said, adding that those assisted by the 105 agencies the Foodbank serves are not out panhandling. 

She said many of the adults served by Foodbank’s agencies have jobs, but cannot provide enough food to their families. 

“Panhandlers are not our clients,” she said. “It give a mixed message and it puts a bad connotation in ( the giver’s) mind of who needs food and who doesn’t.”

X