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This study examines the practice of panhandling among the homeless and the public's response to it. Data were obtained from two national surveys: the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (Burt et al., 1999), and a Columbia University survey of U.S. residents regarding their reactions to and encounters with panhandling (Link et al., 1994). A comparison of homeless panhandlers and non-panhandlers shows the former group to be more isolated, troubled, and disadvantaged than the latter. Although only a minority of homeless say that they panhandle, a majority of domiciled individuals report being the objects of panhandling, and most give money occasionally. Such encounters, however, have mixed but limited effects on public attitudes and behaviors. Nonetheless, these findings challenge the notion that panhandling constitutes an especially threatening feature of urban life, signaling a possible mismatch between public opinion and policy. The most promising policy responses to panhandling, therefore, would appear to involve steps that increase income; although any policy intervention in this area would also benefit from stronger empirical grounding and less reliance on assumptions and stereotypes about panhandling.
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