Is panhandling legal? Yes - and no

Is panhandling legal? Yes - and no »Play Video

EUGENE, Ore. -- The business of begging can be a tough sell.

Robert gets mixed reactions as he begs for work or money.

"A lot of times, a smile, maybe," he said. "Sometimes people kind of shake their head, and I'm like people, you don't know what's going on."

And sometimes tenacious panhandlers sour passersby on even being asked for change.

"If they ask you, and you don't have it, and they let you go by, it's not a problem," said Christian Kempton of Eugene. "But you know, if they keep bugging you and they persist, then yeah, I see it as a problem.")

"They're in an uncomfortable situation," said Judy Shaw of Eugene, "and it's going to make people feel uncomfortable to be faced with that situation."

Eugene police say the real issues with panhandling are the safety risks involved.

Panhandling is legal, and communities that have tried to prohibit it have been overturned by courts that find restrictions to be a violation of free speech.

So when does panhandling become illegal? As soon as that panhandler steps onto the road to accept a dollar, they're breaking the law.

"Out in the roadway, interfering with traffic, or at the point at which the way that they're asking for money breaks some other law, so they're threatening people, getting into the range of robbery, or they become physical with somebody," said Lt. Scott Fellman with the Eugene Police Department.

Over the last few years, citations issued for pedestrians unlawfully using the roadway have steadily increased from 18 tickets handed out by Eugene police in 2005 compared to nearly triple that amount in 2008.

Several Oregon communities have tried to crackdown on the dangerous behaviors associated with panhandling.

Medford had a law banning solicitation anywhere within 50 feet of a bank and other public places until a circuit judge struck down the city ordinance last month.

One ordinance that has not been challenged was passed by Roseburg in 2007. It stops you from being able to give people money or other goods from your car on streets and highways, but the law has not eliminated a market for begging.