Panhandling laws vary significantly based on the city. In general, courts have ruled that cities cannot ban panhandling since it is a form of free speech.
In Oklahoma City, it is addressed in ordinance 30-428, a detailed examination of the city council's findings on all issues of begging, soliciting, and panhandling.
According to the Homeless Alliance, there are 1,500 to 7,000 homeless people in the metro Oklahoma City area. Of that number, about 15 percent are chronically homeless (more than 12 months), and about 40 percent are mentally ill.
The city recognizes a person's right to free speech, however, there are limits as to where and how the panhandling is done. Take a look at some of the answers to frequently asked questions about Oklahoma City panhandling laws.
If a panhandler will not leave you alone, then Oklahoma recognizes that as "aggressive" panhandling, which is considered illegal and should be reported. Examples include if a person continues to ask for money after you have said no. Also, they are not allowed to touch you, threaten you, intimidate you, or block your way.
People cannot panhandle at night either. This is considered aggressive panhandling. The law specifies no panhandling 30 minutes before sundown to 30 minutes after sunrise.
Places Where Panhandling Is Banned
There are several places where panhandling is not allowed. A panhandler cannot solicit funds within 20 feet of outdoor seating areas, whether at a park, restaurant, or any other business.
Panhandling is banned near automatic teller machines, bus stops, or pay phones (though, these are hard to find). If you are waiting in line, for example, for tickets or to get into an establishment, you cannot be solicited.
The city council has discussed making it illegal to panhandle within 50 feet of an elementary school or school bus stop, but this has not yet been added to the ordinance.
Panhandling at Stop Lights and Traffic Medians
In late 2015, the city council made it illegal for panhandlers to be in medians within 200 feet of an intersection. The change was controversial. Those for the addendum called the matter a safety concern while others suggested it was an unfair punishment of panhandlers. The law does make panhandling allowed at large medians (at least 30 feet wide) and those with benches or other "public use" elements.
In 2018, the law was amended to state that pandhandling was illegal at medians where the speed limit was 40 miles per hour or more. The American Civil Liberties Union vigorously fought the claim stating that public medians, streets, and sidewalks "are some of the only remaining platforms for truly free speech."
"One does not need to pay a fee, own a computer, or have access to wifi. These public spaces are available to all at no cost. Free speech must not become a luxury reserved only for those who can afford a platform, and the ACLU will fight to protect our nation’s long-standing tradition of free public discourse in public space." —the ALCU
Penalty for Panhandling
The law allows for a fine of up to $200 or up to 30 days in jail. In most cases, homeless people who are fined for panhandling, they will not be able to pay the fine, and could potentially be jailed due to failure to pay. This would cost the city money to house these individuals in jail and the cost of court.
Oklahoma City has an online citizen's portal where you can register and apply for a charitable solicitations permit. For more information, call the license division at (405) 297-2606.