Evanston’s Human Services Committee is scheduled Monday to review a total rewrite of the city’s panhandling ordinance that would potentially bar soliciting in any high-traffic area.

The draft ordinance was prepared by the city’s legal staff in response to a request from Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward.

It would bar soliciting contributions in “areas within a designated commercial or historic district in which a high volume of pedestrian traffic or narrow sidewalks and streets give a reasonable person a justified, reasonable concern about their personal security due to congestion and close proximity to others.”

It would also bar soliciting in any other area in which “congestion” could create security concerns.

If Girl Scouts selling cookies, like these outside Sherman Plaza this morning, were considered to be seeking donations, even they might run afoul of the proposed restrictions on charitable solicitations.

The ordinance provides no objective standards for judging what constitutes high traffic, narrow sidewalks or congestion. Nor does it provide a reason for singling out historic districts, but excluding other residential areas, from the special protection.

Given that soliciting only makes economic sense where there is a substantial volume of passersby, the wording of the ordinance would appear to put any rational begger in constant legal peril.

The new restrictions would apply to any soliciting activity — not just so-called aggressive panhandling.

Aggressive panhandling would continue to be banned throughout the city, although the new ordinance redrafts the list of actions considered to constitute such behavior.

ATMs would remain off limits to panhandlers.

The ordinance would also:

  • Maintain an existing ban on soliciting near bank entrances or ATM machines.
  • Expand a ban on soliciting at sidewalk cafes to a zone within 20 feet of the cafes.
  • Loosen a complete ban on soliciting at bus stops and transportation facilities to apply only to congested areas.
  • Impose a new ban on soliciting in or within 20 feet of a public parking garage at night, but only when a reasonable individual would have safety concerns.
  • Create a new ban on soliciting within 20 feet of access points to any building public events venue, public accommodation or commercial business if there’s a reasonable safety concern.

However the ordinance as drafted would — perhaps inadvertently — repeal the city’s existing restrictions on door-to-door soliciting.

The ordinance defines the prohibited activities to include charitable and political solicitations as well as begging for personal contributions.

Related documents

The existing Panhandling and Soliciting section of the city code. The proposed new ordinance (starts at page 41 of the packet).

Related stories

Downtown residents renew panhandling complaints (2/2/16)

Some downtown want panhandling banned (9/4/13)

Politics exempt from soliciting ban (2/13/13)

Door-to-door soliciting limits advance (1/30/13)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


    1. Petitioning

      Hi Daniel,

      The proposed ordinance defines “begging, panhandling and charitable or political solicitation” as “actions that are conducted in the furtherance of the purpose of immediately collecting contributions for the use of one’s self or others.”

      So I think a fair reading of it would exclude the collection petition signatures from the restrictions of the ordinance, unless that activity was also coupled with a request for immediate financial support.

      — Bill

  1. This is absolutely horrible.

    This is absolutely horrible. Judy Fiske and the staff who worked with her on this should be ashamed of themselves. This is not who Evanston is, at least not the Evanston I know. And how two faced is it to talk the talk on things like the importance of affordable housing and equit,y and yet want to sweep the neediest among us out of site so they don’t offend our tender sensibilities.

    1. I don’t think anyone wants to

      I don’t think anyone wants to beg for money. However, I’ve seen panhandlers sit for hours as trash blows around their feet. It astounds me that panhandlers sit idle asking for money when they could contribute to a livable downtown by picking up trash.

      On another note, I’ve tried to be helpful by offering some food from my grocery bag, only to receive comments like “what’s the expiration date” or “got any other flavor” or “is that all you have”. I don’t get the sense these people I’ve encountered are as down on their luck as portrayed. 

    2. Human Rights and First Amendment Violation
      I agree, this is horrible. What kind of society prohibits people from asking other people for help?

      In addition:
      * It is a clear violation of people’s First Amendment Rights. I don’t think this ordinance would pass a legal challenge.
      * The excuse of preventing “congestion” is pretty lame. Clearly congestion is not why they want to pass this law.
      * Criminal convictions will not help these people in any way.

  2. panhandling banned
    Never thought I would see subjective banning of panhandling in Evanston. A bigger problem to me was/is the first ward restaurants allowing minors in for “birthday parties” when one person was 21 and no one else was.

  3. They are not all the same
    I don’t like to see the panhandlers or others on the streets or by stores but this link to a NYT story is another side—not a panhandler but someone who never-the-less was on the street.
    A year or two ago there was a woman who slept outside the NU Music building on Clark and would walk around [at least] the north part of the city. She never asked for money or anything and seemed perfectly rational when you talked to her. To evidence of drugs or liquor. I suspect she was just disappointed with people and society. We worried when she disappeared for over a week, came back but I think shortly after disappeared again. The link is to a story of someone who had much more serious problems but reminded me in someways of the Evanston woman.

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