Steve Ray Evans, who uses a sign to ask drivers for money, is successfully suing Utah cities that have cited him for panhandling, arguing that his right to free speech is violated by a state statute that bans soliciting near roadways, the New York Times reports. Such cases have become increasingly common. With the economic downturn, cities have been cracking down on aggressive panhandling, while advocates for the homeless and civil liberties groups contend that sweeping bans on begging go too far.
The National Center on Homelessness and Poverty, in a survey of 188 cities, reports a 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling between 2009 and 2011. In suits challenging panhandling bans, several recent legal decisions have favored the homeless. Last January, after the Evans lawsuit, Salt Lake City agreed to stop enforcing the state statute. Utah fought the suit, arguing that panhandling near roads was dangerous. A federal judge sided with Evans, ruling that the statute was unconstitutional.