Begging means to request something in a supplicating manner, with the implication that the person who is begging will suffer emotional and/or physical harm if the request is not granted. As such, the term is applicable not only to individual persons, but also to groups.
In many towns and cities throughout the world, it is common to see beggars asking for currency, food, or other items. Beggars often beg for spare change equipped with cups, boxes, hats, or other items into which currency can be placed and sometimes display signs with messages such as "Please help me. I am poor. I will pray for you." Also, another thing a Beggar may do is create some sort of fake story to make you feel bad for them, and to trick you into giving them money. Although they may be telling the truth, this is a largely used approach to manipulate a person into handing out money.
Aggressive panhandling involves the solicitation of donations in an inappropriate and intimidating manner. This is not mugging, but rather a "borderline" activity which is often prohibited by law. Examples include:
In many larger cities, such as Chicago, Illinois, panhandling has been banned. In Chicago, there are a number of signs at regular intervals reminding people that peddling is banned. This rarely dissuades the beggar, and the constitutionality of such bans has not been firmly established by case law. In 2004, the city of Orlando, Florida passed an ordinance (Orlando Municipal Code section 43.86) requiring panhandlers to obtain a permit from the municipal police department. The ordinance further makes it a crime to panhandle in the commercial core of downtown Orlando, as well as within of any bank or automated teller machine. It is also considered a crime in Orlando for panhandlers to make false or untrue statements, or to disguise themselves, to solicit money, and to use money obtained for a claim of a specific purpose (e.g. food) to be spent on anything else (e.g. drugs). The potential for these latter restrictions to be enforced is minimal.
In Santa Cruz, CA, there are regulations for panhandlers on where they can and cannot "Spange". For example, they must be a certain distance away from the door of any business.
In parts of San Francisco, CA, panhandling is prohibited.
The Atlanta, Georgia, city council approved a ban on panhandling on August 16, 2005, and Mayor Shirley Franklin is expected to sign the ban into law. In most, if not all, US jurisdictions, beggars can be arrested and jailed under the vagrancy laws.
In some countries begging is much more tolerated and in certain cases encouraged. In many, perhaps most, traditional religions, it is considered that a person who gives alms to a worthy beggar, such as a spiritual seeker, gains religious merit.
In traditional Christianity, the rich are encouraged to give to the poor. Speaking of criminals, prostitutes, beggars, and other people despised by society, Jesus said, "I am the least of these," which is taken to mean that giving to a beggar is the equivalent of giving to Jesus himself.
In many Hindu traditions, spiritual seekers, known as sadhus, beg for food. This is because fruitive activity, such as farming or shopkeeping, is regarded as a materialistic distraction from the search for moksha, or spiritual liberation. Begging, on the other hand, promotes humility and gratitude, not only towards the individuals who are giving food, but towards the Universe in general. This helps the sadhu attain a state of bliss or Samadhi.
In traditional Shaivite Hinduism in particular, old men, having lived a full life as a householder in the world, frequently give up material possessions and become wandering ascetic mendicants (sadhus), spending their last months or years seeking spiritual enlightenment. Villagers gain religious merit by giving food and other necessities to these ascetics.
In Buddhism, all monks and nuns traditionally live by begging for alms, as did the historical Gautama Buddha himself. This is, among other reasons, so that lay people can gain religious merit by giving food, medicines, and other essential items to the monks. The monks seldom need to plead for food; in villages and towns throughout modern Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and other Buddhist countries, householders can often be found at dawn every morning streaming down the road to the local temple to give food to the monks.
There is also a long traditional of rather less spiritual beggars, in India and elsewhere, who are simply begging as a means to obtain material wealth. Some are even beggars for generations, and continue their family tradition of begging. A few beggars in the subcontinent even have sizable wealth, which they accumulate by "employing" other, newer beggars. They can claim to have territories, and then may engage in verbal and physical abuse of encroaching beggars.
In Malta there is no noticeable incidence of begging.
A 2002 study of 54 panhandlers in Toronto reported that of a median monthly income of $638 Canadian dollars (CAD), those interviewed spent a median of $200 CAD on food and $192 CAD on alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, according to Income and spending patterns among panhandlers, by Rohit Bose and Stephen W. Hwang. The Fraser Institute criticized this study citing problems with potential exclusion of lucrative forms of begging and the unreliability of reports from the panhandlers who were polled in the Bose/Hwang study.
In North America, panhandling money is widely reported to support substance abuse and other addictions. For example, outreach workers in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, surveyed that city's panhandling community and determined that approximately three-quarters use donated money to buy tobacco products while two-thirds buy solvents or alcohol. In Midtown Manhattan, one outreach worker anecdotally commented to the New York Times that substance abuse accounts for 90 percent of panhandling funds.
Because of this, some advise those wishing to give to beggars to give gift cards or vouchers for food or services, and not cash. Some shelters also offer business cards with information on the shelter's location and services, which can be given in lieu of cash.