Hand-outs out: Italian town to fine those who give money to beggars

© Natalia Seliverstova
An Italian town has decided to fight the problem of beggars in its own way – instead of fining the panhandlers, authorities are planning to punish those who give them money.

The crucial decision was announced after residents of coastal town of Bordighera, Liguria region, in northwestern Italy said they were repeatedly bothered by local beggars.

It is “pointless to punish those who can't or will never be able to pay” fines, said the town Mayor Giacomo Pallanca.

"Since real organizations are often behind this phenomenon, we must eradicate it by discouraging those who offer money," he told local newspaper Il Secolo XIX. “For anyone who is really in a state of destitution, there are social services available.” 

Steven Barnes from the Project Rome charity initiative told the Local that he supports the decision by Bordighera’s mayor.

“Not only is it humiliating to throw a few small coins at a person on the street, but it is far better to show them genuine compassion and kindness,” he said. “A move like this also eliminates the risk of supporting organized street crime or fueling an alcohol or drug habit, which could better be supported by the appropriate authorities.”

Project Rome says that its aim is to never give money to beggars, but to help them in other ways.

“A few coins here and there are not going to get a man off the street, or rent a house for him, or contribute in any sustainable way to him re-stabilizing his life,” the projects statement says

The group says that instead of giving money, good Samaritans can buy socks, shampoo or a bag of supermarket groceries for panhandlers.

“Let’s be completely empathetic to their situation and their needs. Yes, its right to stop raining coins down on people that need human warmth, kindness and compassion than almost anyone else in our city. Well done Liguria,” it says.

Though begging is still legal at a national level in Italy, some cities and towns live under their own rules. In 2008 Venice banned beggars, introducing €25-€50 (US$28-$56) fines for those caught on the street.

Begging is also prohibited in Sweden and the UK. In Greece begging is punishable by up to six months in jail, while in Norway and Austria it is banned in some regions.