Panhandling: What Can Be Done to Help?

Panhandling can be found in most busy communities, generating many questions and complaints from residents. While we may get a good feeling by providing money to a panhandler, the reality is that panhandlers who are truly in need require more resources than small donations of money.

The good news is that Lake County has many services and staff dedicated to help those in need, but we need your help.

We encourage you to not give money to panhandlers.

Why? Because giving money to panhandlers encourages more panhandling. Donations of cash will not help solve the underlying reasons why someone panhandles. 

Here are some frequently asked questions regarding panhandling:

What is panhandling?

Panhandling is defined in local ordinance as “any act of asking strangers for money in public places”.

Is panhandling Illegal?

Asking for money is a protected act under the First Amendment. Asking for money in public areas, including the entrances to parking lots, is not a violation of law. However, stepping into the roadway to accept money is not allowed and is a violation of Sec. 50-38 of the Gurnee Municipal Code. Additionally, if a person is asking for money on private property and is asked to leave by the property owner and they don’t then that is illegal and considered trespassing.

Should I give money to panhandlers?

No, we encourage you to not give money to panhandlers.

Why shouldn’t I give money to panhandlers?

Donations of cash will not help solve the underlying reasons why someone panhandles and giving to panhandlers only encourages more panhandling. Additionally, not all panhandlers are homeless even though they may be in need of other critical services. Many of the stories panhandlers use to solicit money are not true.

What should I do if I encounter a panhandler?

  • Do not give them money because giving money to panhandlers encourages more panhandling.
  • Refer panhandlers or anyone you see who may be in need to United Way Lake County’s 211 program. They have a wide-range of services and housing resources. They can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 at any time to connect with services that help those in need.

  • Contact PADs Lake County at (847) 616-5557. PADs will send one of their outreach staff to determine what services may be needed.

  • Consider making a donation or volunteering for United Way’s 2-1-1 Lake County, which is dedicated to assisting Lake County residents in need.

How does the police department handle panhandling?

  • Our police officers will intervene when panhandlers commit traffic offenses or engage in criminal activity. If you witness a panhandler breaking the law, contact the Gurnee Police Department. The emergency number is 9-1-1 and the non-emergency number is (847) 599-7000.
  • Our police officers are very responsive and will take immediate action if a crime is being committed. Proactive community assistance with reducing criminal activity is invaluable.
  • If a law is broken, a ticket will be issued.
  • Police officers refer panhandlers they encounter to available county social services, such as PADS Lake County, but cannot force them to receive services.
  • The Police Department monitors legal developments related to panhandling.

What should I do as a business/property owner if I encounter panhandlers on my property?

As a business/property owner, you may ask a panhandler to leave private property (i.e. if they are in a parking lot or are not in the right-of-way). If they do not leave upon request, they are trespassing.