Houston City Council passed ordinances against panhandling two years ago, yet it continues on street corners throughout the Bayou City.
One ordinance addresses aggressive panhandlers near ATMs and gas pumps, while another prohibits panhandlers from stepping into roadways for money.
“There’s nothing illegal about asking for money on the side of the roadway,” says Commander Bryan Bennett with HPD's Mental Health Division. “A lot of it comes down to an officers’ discretion as to whether they consider it a dangerous practice or not.”
He says officers are instructed to issue a warning first.
“We do track our warnings. Officers have access to a program where they can go see if someone has been warned before or not, so it’s not just freely giving out warnings and as soon as we drive away they get back out there and do it again.”
Bennett says the only way to truly stop panhandling is for people stop giving them money. That’s the basis of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s “Meaningful Change – Not Spare Change” campaign, which encourages Houstonians to give money to homeless initiatives instead.