Panhandlers, with their crumpled signs, coffee cups and pleas, are as customary a sight in many American towns and cities as Starbucks or McDonald’s. But for one Utah homeless man, the right to ask people for money has become a personal legal crusade. Steve Ray Evans, who uses a sign to ask drivers for money, has been successfully suing Utah cities that have cited him for panhandling, arguing that his right to free speech is being violated by a state statute that bans soliciting near roadways.
“This is my only source of income,” said Mr. Evans, 54, whose sign reads “Starving Please Help!” “I do it for survival purposes. I feel as though a lot of other individuals depend on it, too.”
Mr. Evans said he had received more than 50 panhandling citations, and cases like his have become increasingly common of late. With the downturn in the economy, cities across the country have been cracking down on an apparent rise in aggressive panhandling, while advocates for the homeless and civil liberties groups contend that sweeping bans on begging go too far.
“Our sense is that cities are responding to the increasing number of chronically or visibly homeless people due to the economic crisis,” said Heather Maria Johnson, a civil rights lawyer for the group. “Rather than addressing the issue of homelessness, they are adapting measures that move homeless people out of downtowns, tourist areas or even out of a city.”
Case law on the issue has varied over the years, and local panhandling laws differ widely. But several recent legal decisions have favored the homeless.
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i'm the leftist liberal you've been warned about - the one who genuinely supports the expansion of the welfare state. i love politics and data and graffiti and street art and am far too lazy to use my shift key. if you need to reach me, you can email to abbyjean at the google email service.