Get Down Memphis

Panhandling is a challenging issue faced by cities of all sizes, and one that affects Memphis as well. The experience of numerous professionals and service agencies finds that money given to panhandlers often only enables self-destructive behaviors like alcoholism and drug addiction. One former panhandler and addict has even stated, "Giving money to a panhandler is like giving a gun to someone who is suicidal."

Downtown Memphis Commission recommends not giving money to panhandlers. A better way to help is to donate to charities and organizations with outreach programs that truly help the homeless and needy.

What is panhandling?

The biggest misconception about panhandlers is that they are homeless. In fact, the vast majority of panhandlers are NOT homeless, and the vast majority of homeless do NOT panhandle. Generally speaking, panhandlers are strangers that approach you on the street to hustle you for money, which will most likely be used to buy drugs or alcohol.

It is important to note that street vendors, outdoor performers and other people providing a legitimate service with a valid permit are not panhandlers. 

Why say no to panhandling?

According to studies, giving money to panhandlers does not help those in need because:

  • Cash given to panhandlers will most likely be used to buy alcohol or drugs.
  • Most panhandlers are NOT homeless.
  • For some, panhandling is a profession and at times, studies show, a lucrative one.
  • Homelessness is not the problem for truly needy panhandlers, but rather a symptom of underlying problems. They need help, not handouts.

    What you should do if asked for money?
    The best response is to politely say "no" and walk away. If a panhandler becomes aggressive or if you feel threatened, contact the police department or find a member of the Blue Suede Brigade.

    What you can do ...
    To help the homeless in our community ...
  • Donate your money to legitimate organizations dedicated to helping the homeless.
  • Volunteer your time to organizations and service agencies addressing this issue.
  • Become more knowledgeable about panhandling and homelessness by visiting local service agencies to learn of other ways you can help.
  • Visit the Partners for the Homeless website for more information about homelessness initiatives.

    Is panhandling legal?
    According to city ordinance 20-28, panhandling in Downtown Memphis is illegal outside of site specific zones. Further,is unlawful 
  • to panhandle between the hours of 7pm and 8am;
  • to panhandle by coming within 3 (three) feet of the person solicited, unless that person has indicated that he/she does wish to make a donation;
  • to touch the person being solicited without that person's consent;
  • to block the path of a person who attempts to walk or drive away from the panhandler;
  • to panhandle in a group of two or more persons;
  • to panhandle While under the influence of alcohol, illegal narcotic or a controlled substance.

Say NO to Panhandling Resources

To report panhandling issues, 
call 901-575-0540 or email davis [at] downtownmemphis [dot] com 

View the:
City of Memphis Panhandling Ordinance
US Dept of Justice's Community Oriented Policy Paper on Panhandling

Link to our partners:
Community Alliance for the Homeless
Memphis Union Mission
Memphis Police Department
The Crime Commission 

Recent articles:
The New Yorker magazine