The Smart Way to Address Panhandling

Posted Jun 24th, 2019 in Feat of the Week


A recent survey of public perception by the City of Wilmington Police Department showed approximately two-thirds of respondents considered homelessness in Downtown Wilmington to be serious and felt panhandling was a big contributor to problems downtown.

While perceptions are not based on facts we believe it is important that people feel safe in Downtown. Safety is one of the roles provided by the Municipal Service District (MSD) Ambassadors who patrol the central business district by foot and encounter people from all walks of life.

Although the terms homeless and panhandler are often used interchangeably to describe people who have fallen on hard times, they refer to two quite different plights. Not all homeless people panhandle and people who panhandle may not be homeless.

Also, the act of panhandling is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned. It was referred to in one court ruling as, “the right to engage fellow human beings with the hope of receiving aid and compassion.” So, panhandling is legal unless it is done in an aggressive manner. If this happens, call the police.

Feeling compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves is understandable; while giving money directly to panhandlers may seem like a way to help, it can be a bad long-term approach because it encourages the activity to continue. A better solution is to give money to agencies equipped to help people in need.

There are many such agencies in Downtown Wilmington that rely on monetary contributions to provide food, water, clothing, shelter, help with benefits and health care. Contact information and addresses for these local charitable organizations are listed on Wilmington’s Street Sheet which can be downloaded here. The Ambassadors also carry street sheets and hand them out to people in need.

The street sheets are part of the Have a Heart, Give Smart program that was launched by the MSD in 2018 to address panhandling and help people feel safer. The GiveSmartWilmington.org website provides details of this program and offers advice on how to respond to panhandlers. Donations can be made through a PayPal link on the website or by texting “Heart” to 910.817.4301. This is a safe way for you to make a difference.

So, have a heart and give smart to help people who are down on their luck transition to a better life.

Note: 100% of all contributions will be donated to local agencies less third-party financial transaction fees.

If you have questions about panhandlers, the Ambassadors can be reached during operating hours by phone or text at 910.524.3600 or via email at ambassador@wilmingtondowntown.com.

Learn More About The Ambassador Program