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Your Take: How do you feel about panhandlers?

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This is a topic that has been the subject of previous Friday Your Take’s (do you give to panhandlers?) but after reading this column by Derek Thompson, an associate editor at The Atlantic, I thought it’s something that deserved another look. Read his article and then come back, it’ll take but a few minutes (it’s not long and his point is made in the first two sentences).

In general, my feelings mirror his. I don’t give to panhandlers but I do support philanthropic organizations whose goals are to reduce homelessness and poverty. That includes places like our local food pantry. It’s not an idea situation because there’s loss whenever you have to go through something. Not every dollar I donate to a food pantry will go to helping someone, some of it will go towards upkeep, organizational costs, etc. I understand that, but I feel that’s the cost of ensuring the funds go to actually help people.

On the other hand, let’s consider the story of Million-Dollar Murray (much longer story but well worth the read). Million dollar Murray refers to Murray Barr, a 6′ tall “bear of a man” who had cost the taxpayers of Reno about a million bucks in health care. If you donated to a philanthropy that tried to work with the homeless of Reno with the hopes that they’d help him, it wouldn’t be as effective as simply paying him (which is what they did). It’s not like giving money to a panhandler but it’s something to think about because you don’t expect that to work. But it did.

Thoughts?

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35 Responses to “Your Take: How do you feel about panhandlers?”

  1. cubiclegeoff says:

    I had a guest lecturer in a class one day who worked in Cleveland at one point and they did a study of panhandlers and found that a good portion of them were within an organization, meaning there were higher ups they had to give a portion of their money to and they all had set areas to go to. After that, I decided it wasn’t worth it to give out money to panhandlers. I figure the many of the people that really need the money are also not the ones panhandling. I’d rather give to an organization.

  2. zapeta says:

    We have a lot of homeless in the city I live in given it’s size. I don’t give money to those who are panhandling, but there are several drop boxes throughout downtown where you can donate money that goes to organizations that help the homeless, so I drop the money that I would have given in to the drop boxes.

    • Anonymous says:

      Supporting “authorized panhandling collectors” is still “the problem” just because you don’t (want to) know the discriminatory practices of the “authorized panhandling collectors” that distribute your money but only in their narrowed requirements.

  3. Scott says:

    I recently found out we have some rules on panhandling in our city. For example, panhandlers can hold up signs with written requests for help/money but if they verbally speak to you, then they can get arrested for improper solicitation (you have to be officially registered in most states and localities to verbally ask the public for money). I would suggest others check into their own local laws and regulations on what’s ok and not ok so you are at least in the know.

  4. mannymacho says:

    When I lived in Philadelphia I remember seeing signs that said something like “the more change you give, the less things will change.” It really brought my attention to the fact that, like the article says, those people usually don’t need just money, they need money and direction.

  5. billsnider says:

    I use to go through Grand Central Station in NY City on my way home. My habit was to drop any coins that I had at that time into someone’s basket.

    I then read an article that said that a significant number of these people actually had other jobs. This was a ruse on their part to make extra money. I felt taken. I now instead give it directly to favorite charities that I know and trust.

    One other point that the article made. There were so many panhandlers that it made it difficult to get through the station. They were blocking the elevators and steps. The police had to keep moving them out of the way for safety. That was another reason to stop giving in this manner.

    Bill Snider

  6. Bart says:

    My thinking is that if the panhandler has enough cognitive ability to create a sign, walk somewhere to panhandle, and beg for food or money for an entire day then they can find a job doing something!
    I will not give a panhandler money (possibly supporting their habit) but I will give them food. I had one panhandler in FL take me up on the offer for food, I went to the local store and bought him a loaf of bread, 6 pack of bottled water, and sandwich meat. He was thankful for this.
    I had another turn down the offer for food and asked if I could give him the money I was going to spend on the food instead. I declined and told him I was not interested in supporting his habits.

  7. freeby50 says:

    I generally do not give money to panhandlers.

    Unfortunately its too hard to tell if they are really in need or if they are just con artists. Plus too many of the homeless are there because of their own substance abuse problems. Our city has lots of free support government and charity programs for homeless people so I don’t really feel theres a concern that panhandlers can’t get a meal or a bed to sleep in if they want it. The panhandlers around here are usually able bodied and well fed looking or obviously dealing with their own drug/alcohol/crime problems.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I never give to panhandlers, and I will never give to any charity because of how much $$ the people who run them take off the top, usually hundreds of thousands of dollars. I pay my taxes, that should be sufficient. Let the government divvy it out accordingly.

  9. Suzanna says:

    I never give to panhandlers, and I never give to any charities either, mainly because the people who run them take hundreds of thousands of dollars off the top for themselves. I pay my taxes, that should be sufficient. Let the government dole it out accordingly.

    • Bey says:

      Suzanna, this post was about panhandling and I don’t want to get off topic too much, but please look online at Charity Navigator — this site will help you research charities, including the slalaries of their CEOs. You’d be surprised at some very good and efficient charities whose staff earn very little in comparison to the revenue that they manage. If the government were rated by Charity Navigator I’m sure it would wind up in the bottom 1%.

  10. Guy In San Antonio says:

    I give them a dollar or two from time to time. I pray for them and if the Lord leads me, i give them something. In my opinion, if they use the $2 to go buy a beer, they deserve it for standing out there all day. Second, once i have followed my heart, it is on them what they do with it.

    Some of my friends hand them McDonald’s gift certificates which are available in $1 denominations. Other friends prepare bags (cookies, gum, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc) and hand that to them. Also, they will include directions to local agencies that can help them.

    Just ignoring them will not solve the problem. God asks us to do what we can first, then He will take care of the rest

  11. Dave says:

    Whenever I see a low-life panhandler on the street, shaking their coin cup, I always say the same thing. “Sorry, jerk, but I have plenty, I don’t need anymore”.

    Panhandlers are disgusting people, the lowest part of our great society. They, and no one else, put them in the situation they are in and they certainly don’t deserve any of our help, financial or otherwise. I have no respect for them and never will. The mistakes that they choose to make in their lifetime have given them the lifetime that they deserve, pure and simple.

    • JoeTaxpayer says:

      Dave – I always thought child molesters and rapists were the lowest. Thanks for setting me straight.

      I don’t know what put most of these people where they are, but I know that many people are two paychecks away from being behind on their bills and not that far from homelessness.

      The only people I pass by are those with signs such as “help keep the Irish drunk.” I know most will buy alcohol, but they don’t need to shove it in my face. I give in the hope that some will buy food. In the winter, I keep extra earmuffs in my coat pockets, and give those out as well.

  12. Dave says:

    If you are begging, I just walk on by. If you are doing something fun or entertaining, like playing an instrument, I’ll drop some change or a dollar in your basket.

    Google Joshua Bell Subway to read a cool story about one of the world’s best musicians playing on a $3.5MM violin in a Washington DC subway and he is almost completely ignored by everyone who goes past…

  13. qixx says:

    In the town i grew up in, one of our news channels did a piece on the local panhandlers. They followed a few (i remember three) different individuals that lived in nicer homes and made enough to pay mortgages on these nice homes. Based on the mortgages of similar homes the estimate was the panhandlers made $60,000+ a year. The city started requiring panhandlers licenses within a month of the piece airing. Since then i’ll only give to organizations.

    I’ve seen many other articles that estimate most panhandlers make $20,000 – $25,000 at the most. I don’t know why the area i grew up in was so much different. I will however pay for services (like a good musician on the street).

    • billsnider says:

      John Stossel recently did a bit on this. he was outside the White House and his sign said he needed money for beer. He got an amount that equated to $20,000+/year.

      He is not sure why people gave him money.

      Bill Snider

  14. Eddie says:

    I’ll generally give a buck or two.Another for the “life’s too short”file. There are only two basic motivations- it’s a scam of some sort, or a legitimate desperate need-and in either case I get a mild feeling of having done something nice for the change in my pocket after lunch.

  15. Shirley says:

    We have a recognizable group of men who are bussed into our town each morning to panhandle. Each one goes to a different pre-set spot each day. The bus drops them off in several small towns along a prescribed route and then picks them up in the afternoon. I don’t give to them any more because I feel they could/should be doing something productive, rather than making panhandling their occupation.

  16. echidnina says:

    Here in the UK, we have a magazine called Big Issue – it’s a program for homeless people, where they sell the magazine and are allowed to keep a certain portion of the sales. Their tagline is ‘Working, not Begging’. It’s a small step up from begging, but it *is* a step up – at least they are providing something in exchange for money, instead of relying purely on charity, and that’s something I’m willing to support. I feel the same way about street musicians – if I am enjoying what they’re playing, then they’re offering a service to me, and I’m willing to pay to support that.

    • cubiclegeoff says:

      I’ve seen this in places in the US as well.

    • tbork84 says:

      But I am not sure I would call that panhandling. They are actually trying to sell something rather than just hold a sign and ask for spare change. I would rather spend a few hours volunteering in a soup kitchen or shelter than giving some spare change to a panhandler.

  17. elloo says:

    I lived and worked in New York City for years. Pretty much everday I stepped over a passed out in the middle of the sidewalk panhandler who had taken his beggar’s change to buy booze. I heard the countless sob stories on the subway (I lost my wallet, I was mugged, I need money to buy diapers, ad nauseum). At first. I gave out some change, but after a short while I realized that I was most likely fueling someone’s addiction. At least the infamous squeegie guys performed a service although one not requested, and these guys made serious bucks. So for many years, I stopped giving anyone change until I read a NY Times article a few years ago about two elderly, indigent and very arthritic sisters, who panhandled as a pair everyday to make a few dollars so they could eat. It made me rethink my views. I asked myself if I saw them before I read the article, would I have looked down and kept walking not knowing their pathetic but true story? Absolutely. But no longer. I now hand over some change because I figure maybe, just maybe, one panhandler’s story out of ten is for real, and I just have to go with that hope as I remind myself of those two sisters.

  18. daenyll says:

    I remember in Cleveland there was typically a guy from one of the shelters that stood around near one of the main crosswalks across campus and sold roses for the shelter. I’d occasionally buy one or just give him the little change I had if I didn’t have enough for a rose. Here in Fl there are a wide variety of programs to help, and the homeless are surprisingly more noticeable, as well as the panhandlers. I no longer give, but have been thinking about helping out at one of the soup kitchens when I get a chance.

  19. Wilma says:

    I realize these are people with drug and/or alcohol issues but taking them to the hospital over and over or giving them a place to live free when there are so many who are trying to live right is just wrong. They’re on a downward spiral suicide mission and you just got to let them go.

    I’ve listened to coworkers stories as they lost everything they worked for trying to save a loved one from completing their mission. My parents did the same thing. You can’t save them if they don’t want to be saved. Let them go and spend the resources on those that put forth the effort to live. They won’t cost you money if you don’t spend it on them. Giving them medical care makes every one else medical costs go up. So we ALL pay for this in some way.

    I’m not totally heartless. You just got to know when to stop trying to help an individual who only wants a hand out to continue their downward spiral. Resources are tight these days and there are so many in need that would benefit from the help.

    Maybe the answer is to sentence them to a hotel like setting where they can’t leave EVER and you hand them the drug or alcohol of choice till they die. The crime rate will go down cause they won’t be loitering, breaking and entering homes or businesses, mugging people on the streets or dealing drugs. Radical idea? You bet. But it’s cheaper.

  20. george says:

    many people are on the street because they are mentally ill and do not deserve another kick in this life—

  21. Tim says:

    Hi Jim thanks for the post. I do give to organizations whose goals are to reduce homelessness and poverty. I give my time to our local Gospel Mission which helps with food and clothing for people in need. We never know what life has in store for us some day we may be in need of a helping hand. just sayin!

  22. Ross says:

    I think one of the core concepts at work here is that money is simply a tool. It’s a tool to do anything you want in life, and it can get a person half-way around the world, or simply off the street and into a decent house or apartment.

    Combine the tool of money with a little knowledge about what to do with that tool, and those who truly want to help themselves and better their situation will have everything they need.

    I personally don’t give money to those on the street. I don’t think every one of them is a low-life addict that put themselves in their situation, but the majority probably are.

    I feel that the only charity worthy of giving money to whose mission is to help the homeless are the ones that look at the homeless on a case-by-case basis, determine what they need, and then give them the tools and education to escape their situation and progress towards self-sufficiency, with a system in place to track their progress and keep them accountable.

  23. Scott says:

    One guerilla tactic I’ve often thought about doing is giving heavily to panhandlers in the cities around me but not in my own. Thereby encouraging panhandlers to leave my own neighborhood and head to greener pastures elsewhere.

  24. Amy Saves says:

    I don’t give them money, but if I have food, I will give it to them. Just the other day, we gave this guy tasty leftovers from an Italian restaurant. He was quite grateful.


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