Employees of the Peoria Police Department are frequently asked about homeless persons in our city and residents inquire why homeless persons or panhandlers cannot be arrested. The answer is that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that panhandling is constitutionally protected free speech. If an individual wants to panhandle on public property, they are within their legal rights; however, they cannot panhandle on private property without permission of the property owner. Individuals panhandling cannot be on center medians or in the roadway.
Being homeless is not illegal; however, other activities such as urban camping, trespassing, public urination and littering are illegal. If you witness these illegal activities in or around your neighborhood, you can call the Peoria Police Department non-emergency line at 623-773-8311. Officers do take enforcement action against persons committing these crimes, however, a misdemeanor arrest does not solve the underlying problem and the arrestee will remain homeless.
One common misconception the public has is that all panhandlers are homeless and all homeless are panhandlers. This could not be further from the truth. A large percentage of those pan handling, including those our citizens see every day on our street corners, have a place to stay, but for one reason or another, choose to panhandle instead of seeking employment or accepting services from organizations that can help them. Very frequently, the person is not yet willing to try to seek help for the root cause of their situation. Instead, they accept money by standing on street corners and accepting donations from well meaning, good-hearted citizens, who think they are helping a person in need. Unfortunately, these generous citizens are actually hurting the panhandlers and enabling them to avoid seeking help for their long-term problem.
Since forming the Peoria Police Department Homeless and Crisis Intervention Team, we have contacted over 400 homeless individuals in our city. Some success stories include a veteran who was able to get help to become sober and the team assisted him with finding housing. The team assisted a homeless couple by locating funds to purchase airline tickets to send them home to family for support. The male half was able to get a job and the couple got their first apartment together. The team assisted a man who was homeless for five years and got him assistance and he has now moved into his own apartment. The team also put a pregnant homeless female who had been addicted to drugs back in touch with her family who was happy to help her get further assistance. Clearly, those who do accept help from the team do very well.
Most residents want to help others and seeing someone panhandling pulls at most of our heartstrings. Giving money and even food items to these individuals only provides a Band-Aid effect and does not serve to end the long-term problem. The best way for concerned citizens to help those experiencing homelessness or panhandling is for them to donate to one of the many organizations in the valley who are dedicated to helping those in need, such as local charities, shelters and rehabilitation centers.