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Panhandling and Child Exploitation

Wed, Oct 19, 2011

Jim LoBianco

The courts have ruled that an individual has the right to panhandle as long as the behavior does not violate “aggressive panhandling” and/or private property laws. Speaking as someone who has spent a significant portion of my professional career working with individuals on the street, I believe strongly that an exception should be made when children are involved. By its very nature panhandling implies that the panhandler is experiencing some kind of crisis, (e.g., lack of access to necessary food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Therefore, it is reasonable for City officials to assume that when a child is in the company of a panhandler the child is in crisis. Chicago officials are mandated to intervene whenever there is reason to believe that a child is at risk. To that point, the City of Chicago should establish clear protocols to intervene when a child is in the company of a panhandling adult.

Proposal:
— The City should encourage the public to call 911 whenever and wherever they see a child in the company of a panhandler.
— Chicago police beat officers should investigate instances where an adult panhandler is accompanied by a child. Based on the outcome of the investigation the police may take one of two actions.
(1) If it is determined that the adult /child are experiencing a “human service” crisis, the adult and child will be transported to the local police station where human service personnel, (City or nonprofit) will respond. The human service personnel will then assure sure that the adult/child receive the necessary services to stabilize the crisis.
(2) I f it is determined that the adult is not in legitimate need of human services, but is exploiting the child in order to hustle money, the adult should be taken into police custody. The child should be taken into protective custody and turned over to an appropriate family member or government authority.

These steps would assure that, regardless of the circumstance, the City takes the appropriate action to protect the wellbeing of the child. If the child and the adult are in real need, then the police will see to it that they are immediately connected to the appropriate social service support. If the adult is actually exploiting the child, then the police will assure that the adult is criminally charged and the child is protected. Either way, the best interest of the child is served.

As it stands today, Chicagoans and police are apt to pass a panhandler with a child without stopping to inquire as to the nature of the crisis. My policy would encourage citizens and law enforcement to be conscious of the plight of children on our streets.

I have shared my proposal with Mayor Emanuel’s administration. Although it may not be implemented exactly as I describe, the City must take steps to prevent the exploitation of children by street hustlers. This policy should be easy for the administration to support because it makes use of existing City resources without adding new costs. Hopefully the Mayor’s team will find a way to ensure effectively implement some procedure ensure that children on the streets of Chicago are protected.

I would greatly appreciate your thoguhts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either tipline@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 18).

Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

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One Response to “Panhandling and Child Exploitation”

  1. Panhandling says:

    Here is my question:

    Is what you are saying a PROPOSAL or a piece of active ADVICE? Meaning, is it your position that Chicagoans should, as of today, contact 911 if we see a child in the presence of a panhandler? (I’ll disclose my bias: I’m all for this in principle–I agree with your write-up–but I also didn’t come away from your article with an understanding of whether the systems and laws are in place TODAY to handle the situation where a pedestrian calls 911, explains the situation, and then directs the police to the location.) In other words, is this aspirational or is it something we can (and should) start doing today?

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