Panhandling law loophole lets roadside begging continue


You've probably seen a panhandler around Indianapolis. 

"I just think they're full of crap," said one motorist. "They want money to get out of other people."

Maybe you've talked with them.

"I used to cut hair," said one panhandler at 96th and Keystone.

"We're pretty much a blight out here," said another panhandler downtown. "People don't like seeing us, there's so many of us."

"Some are homeless, some are not homeless," said Daniel, who holds down a spot near 10th Street.

Homeless or not, they've found homes at major intersections and off ramps everywhere. And here's how they've done it.

"You've researched the law, you know what you're doing then?" we asked Daniel. He answered yes and rattled off the number of the Marion County panhandling ordinance. It's a law that makes it illegal for someone to come up to you at an ATM or street corner or building entrance and ask for money.

So why do we see them?

"You're not supposed to be standing here with signs. You could get arrested for it," said one motorist. Actually, that's not true.

"I see a lot more panhandling. I found out there's a term for it," said another driver. "It's called signing."

That's the loophole in the panhandling law. As long as they say nothing to you first, they can hold the sign all day during daylight hours.

Daniel says he tries to follow the law closely. He even tries to keep the corner clean by stationing a trash can there.

"It's a hard life out here," he said. "It really is a hard life."

Daniel says he lives in a homeless camp and has been unable to find work. But others?

"One guy I know does it because he's bored and doesn't have anything else to do," Daniel said.

He and others told us police move them along. In 2010, IMPD arrested 116 illegal panhandlers. In 2011, there were 127 arrests. Last year, the number dropped to 54.

"Aggressive panhandling, that's against the law," said Daniel. "I don't shake a cup. I don't even look at people. I look straight down or I look right here."

Police say the panhandler's keen awareness of the law plus increased enforcement is behind the drop in arrests.

Of last year's 54 arrests, 7 percent of them happened near 86th and Keystone, which we found becoming a trash dump last summer.

The Emerson Avenue exits at I-70 and at I-465 are busy spots too, but you'll find the most at street corners downtown.

"It goes on too much" says a motorist at a downtown stop light. "It's hard for me to determine who is genuinely suffering. Some have to do it."