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Your Take: Do You Give To Panhandlers?

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I always suspected that not all the panhandlers (or beggars, whatever term you prefer) were in the situations they claimed to be in and had heard unsubstantiated stories about “professional panhandlers.” One rumour back in Pittsburgh was that a particular panhandler on Forbes near PITT owned an Escalade (this was something I heard eight years ago, before high gas prices) and was seen turning the corner and hopping in it after “work.”

Above is a local news report in Utah where CBS Channel 2 (after a commercial) watched some professional panhandlers at work. They eventually spent more time watching Megan Elmer (sp?) and interviewing her, learning of her heartbreaking story of moving down from Seattle to be with her boyfriend, only to have him break up with her. Now she’s just panhandling to scrape up a few bucks to get back home.

Except she’s a local and she’s not homeless.

Anyway, I thought the exposé was a little harsh (giving out her home address? was that really necessary?) but it certainly validated all the rumors many people have heard about panhandlers. They’re scammers, they’re frauds, they’re just preying on and taking advantage of your good nature.

I don’t give to panhandlers. I don’t because of the above story and because of other stories I’ve heard of people getting jumped when they reach for their wallets. Instead, we donate money to local food banks and areas that support people in need.

Do you give to panhandlers? If so, how does the report make you feel?

{ 46 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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46 Responses to “Your Take: Do You Give To Panhandlers?”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    I will not usually give money to panhandlers. I will sometimes buy them a slice of pizza or a sandwich, though, if they want it.

    There is one exception that stands out in my brain. About 14 years ago, a panhandler approached me and gave me a long pitch about the benefits of giving to the United Negro Pizza Fund. I gave him some money, but made it clear that I was doing so because I was entertained by his pitch.

  2. Ben Rasmusen says:

    The video above pretty much confirms my suspicions. I don’t ever give money to panhandlers (thought mainly because I never have cash), but I have friends who do.

    I’ve had a couple of friends who have offered to buy a panhandler food rather than give them money and they have flat out refused saying they only wanted money or booze.

  3. Frugal Dad says:

    No, I don’t typically give to panhandlers. The only similar thing I’ve done recently is I was filling up my truck one day and watched three guys push an old beatup pickup truck uphill about 200 yards to the gas station. There was signage on the truck so I knew it was a “work truck,” and it was loaded with tools and equipment. The driver got out, went over to a payphone and came back, obviously despondent.

    These were hard working guys, and I could tell by their truck, and their clothing that they had been working all day. For some reason, I felt compelled to help, so I asked the guy if he was having trouble with his truck. He replied, “No, she just ran out of gas and I can’t get my wife on the phone. I’m ashamed to say this, but I’m flat broke and I don’t even have the money to get these guys home. And I don’t want to leave my truck here loaded down with my tools.” I told the guy to put $20 in and I would pay for his gas along with mine. You can’t imagine the look on his face, and the other two guys in the truck. He gave me his business card and offered to do some free painting for me, or whatever else I might need around the house. I told him to pay it forward, but if that I ever needed work I would keep his number and hire him. I’d like to think it helped him out of tough spot.

  4. Joseph Butler says:

    Hmmm … I’ve heard “stories” about charities and fraud, but I still give. I heard “stories” about religious leaders defrauding their congregation, but I still attend church. I’ve heard “stories” about Whites, Blacks, lawyers, doctors, bloggers, etc. in very unflattering light, but I have to ask myself, am I simply looking to confirm beliefs I already hold or am I wise enough to know that SOME people are rotten, but MOST people are not.

    I give for many reasons: I know how hard it is to ask for help, I know that I have received help that perhaps someone else would judge I didn’t deserve (because I’m a guy or Black or working, whatever excuse people come up with for thinking they deserve things but others do not) but mainly I give because I have. Who am I to question the integrity of a beggar? Will she jump into her limo and drive away? Oh, gee, she took my five bucks, I feel so violated. Will he use it to by booze? How dare he, I say, as I pour myself a glass of wine at the end of a hard day. I don’t think about what will happen if the person doesn’t “deserve it” and I gave them money anyway. Rather I think what if the person really needed it and I didn’t give. Forget about what kind of person the con is (he’s a con), but remeber what kind of person you are.

  5. Absolutely not.

    One of my university students was a police officer. She told me that most panhandlers are drug users. They’re hustling money to snort up their noses or shoot up their veins.

    Also, watch closely. Many panhandlers stake out a corner and “own” it for long periods. They will threaten or beat up anyone else who tries to move in on them, including legitimate street vendors who are licensed to sell products such as flowers and stuffed animals.

    One guy used to stand at the corner of a busy intersection with a sign reading “Need $18 to pay my rent.” In other words, “Fork over a twenty-dollah bill, pal!” Think of that. If five suckers gave him $20 over the course of an hour, he would be “earning” three times as much as I do.

  6. JoeTaxpayer says:

    There’s a story of two rabbis walking down the street. As they pass a panhandler, one pulls out a dollar and gives it to him. The non-giver says “I hear that most of these guys are not poor, just thieves, I won’t give out any money, cause I don’t want to give money to a thief.” The second rabbi replies, “I’ll give out a dollar to each, just in case one is really in need, I wouldn’t want to pass him by.”

    I was set up (by the powers that be) in a similar circumstance. On a business trip, walking down a street in Chicago, I handed a dollar each to about five homeless people. The guy I was with asked “how can you give a dollar to everyone with his hand out?” I answered, “How can you just pass by so many people and never reach into your pocket?”

    BTW – when I have the time, I do stop and offer a meal and stay for some conversation. But I do understand those who feel otherwise, and don’t criticize them for their own decision.

    • Seamus says:

      You don’t criticize those who don’t give, but you question the guy you were in Chicago for not giving. “How can you just pass by so many people and never reach into your pocket?” sounds critical to me. You seem to be questioning that person’s values simply because he isn’t willing to pull out cash and hand it over the way you are.

  7. Geoff says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. I met a guy who worked in Cleveland and they did a study on panhandling and found out it was a business in their area. There as a heirarchy and the money was spread throughout.

    I’ve had enough experiences of seeing the same people saying the same dated story two weeks apart (like “I just moved here and I’m getting a paycheck next friday, I just need a little”, then hear the same story over a week later) that I just don’t give money anymore. Plus I never carry cash anyway.

  8. Traciatim says:

    I don’t carry cash much, but when I have change there are a few specific people around my city that I will throw a dollar or two their way. I live in a fairly small city (100K or so), which means you would know most of the people that actually need help.

    I’m not sure if he does anymore, but there was a person that goes to the local mall here and goes from store to store and asks anyone if they need a drink or a snack from the coffee shop and asks to keep the change. Since many of the mall workers can’t leave their posts in most cases he’s providing a service for his funds; it work out well. This is the type of person that I would give money to.

  9. Lynnae says:

    Our newspaper ran a story about a panhandling family. They lived in a nice hotel and sent their kids to private school, because they were so successful panhandling. Needless to say, a lot of people stopped giving to panhandlers.

    I give to charities instead.

  10. alan says:

    i usually just give them food if they’re on the streets. I ignore the ppl that walk along side your car at a red light.

  11. Adfecto says:

    For me the decision comes down to making the small amount of money I have to contribute produce the largest positive impact. Giving a dollar to 10 people on the street does nothing to help their long term situation, but if I give $10 to Habitat for Humanity or a food pantry then I am able to make a much more “efficient” donation.

    Taken even further, a global effort such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would be even better. Just addressing panhandling as a core issue, approximately 1% of Americans fit the broad definition of homeless (~3 million people). Bill Gates could walk around this country and give every single homeless person $12,000 in oder to give his fortune to charity. I honestly don’t think even that large an effort would help most of these people in the longer term. The alternative is to start a foundation that invests in attacking the root causes of the problems: education, public health, and economic development.

    I think that over the course of my life the dollars and small donations I could give to panhandlers would be better utilized if they were given to an organization with this type of approach.

  12. Rebecca says:

    You know, that is an interesting subject… when I was in undergrad at UT in Austin we had a statistical project on charting whatever subject and disecting it into ratios.

    Well, one group presented a video study on the homeless around downtown Austin, TX and found some startling facts:
    Men averaged around $30,000
    Single women averaged around $42,000
    Women with children averaged around $57,000

    Consequently, the whole class was in uproar over the video and seeing these homeless people fully comment on their situation. I decided either: a) to only give food and drink to the homeless or b) offer them work; because frankly, any one can work and every one has potential! :o)

  13. Brandon says:

    My solution is that I just don’t carry cash. I wonder why these panhandlers don’t get a credit card for their “bus ticket” 😉

  14. Janice says:

    I don’t give money – I will give food, clothes, toiletries…etc. The truth is as the article above states, many are making their living off the kindness of strangers, they aren’t homeless oro downtrodden – this is their profession. I think its also good to have handy resource numbers etc – shelters, food banks, etc. If they really want a hand up – they will make use of those things.

  15. I usually don’t have cash, but every once in a while if I have cash and the person looks truly needy, I’ll give a dollar or two. But I try to give tangible items instead — recently the weather was really rainy so I gave a homeless guy my umbrella because he didn’t have one. Another time just a few weeks ago, a guy near my house had two dogs on the corner with him. He had a camping backpack with him so he looked more like a wanderer than a bum, but I felt so badly for those two sweet-looking dogs who were dirty and looked hot. So when I came home from running errands I grabbed a half-full bag of dog food I had at home and drove back to his corner and gave it to him.

    Last summer I carried around fruit cups and mini Propel bottles in my car and would give it to panhandlers who looked like they really needed it because I live in Texas, where the summers are scorching (though I did have a few people turn me down — I could tell they only wanted booze or drugs). I definitely always question what they plan to do with the money, and stories like Megan’s don’t make me feel any better about it, so I really try to give something that’s helpful rather than just handing over cash. But I don’t give them anything if they don’t look like they really need it or are rude — because some definitely are rude and act like just because you’re driving in a car and are stopped next to them, you’re a rich person and they’re entitled to your money.

  16. Jessica says:

    Don’t you all think that if people (drug/alcohol addicts aside) really didn’t want to be homeless and beg for money every day that they would find a way not to?

    There are bleeding heart programs set up all over this country that are specifically designed to get people off the street, not to mention the thousands of illegal immigrants that come to the US with nothing and find ways to make a living and support a family, including a place to live.

    Homeless people are homeless because they want to be. If they want money, they can get a job. That is where my money comes from.

  17. jen says:

    I agree with Joseph Butler–there are always a few rotten people taking advantage of situations. We tend to hear a lot about the bad ones and not much from the ones who really appreciated the extra dollar or the slice of pizza. I tend not to give money, but every once in awhile I see someone that really looks down on their luck and I can’t help it. I have carried sweatshirts and gloves in my car in the winter and given those out when it is freezing.
    I hate to use this cliche, but it’s how I feel…..
    Please don’t let a few rotten apples ruin the bunch.
    Living on the streets has to be hard. Donate to a good cause or buy someone a sandwhich.

  18. David says:

    After living here and being asked 10 times a day for money when I go to the park or the promenade, I stopped giving anything years ago. Our city spends millions each year to help the homeless with housing, jobs, food, et , and most of them refuse to take it. Thus, I refuse to give them cash as I know exactly where it will go. If they were using it to help themselves out of their situation, I would have no problem giving. But knowing that there are plenty of services that provide that and they don’t take it, well, I keep my money in my wallet.

  19. Amanda says:

    Living in Chicago, I see a countless number of panhandlers every day. From my perspective, it would be impossible for me to give to every one, so I don’t give to any. Additionally, I agree with your comment about safety Jim – as a young woman, I don’t want to draw any attention to myself or my wallet on the street.
    That being said, I’ve never seen any of these professional panhandlers… most of the people in Chicago truly are homeless and needy, unless these pros have gone to great lengths to acquire the homeless “look”! Like you, we give to our church and the food bank.

  20. saladdin says:

    “Homeless people are homeless because they want to be. If they want money, they can get a job.”

    Perfect example of why I do give. And people wonder where our society has gotten off track. Hint: It’s when we started judging people and treating each other like this.

    It must be nice to be perfect in every way.


  21. SK says:

    I typically give to buskers – street entertainers who are playing music, juggling, doing sidewalk chalk drawings, etc. – but not to panhandlers. Even if they aren’t great musicians/artists/whatever, they are at least trying to contribute something positive in return for your cash. As I understand it, one guy who has a regular corner staked out in my town makes a pretty decent living, which I don’t mind a bit because he’s a really good musician.

  22. Posco says:


    The act of giving money does not necessarily equal a show of compassion.

    There are better ways to give, better ways for me to spend (invest) my resources, energy, and time. “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

  23. Posco says:


    The act of giving money is not the best way to show compassion. In fact, it’s kind of cheap.

    There are many better ways to spend (invest) my resources, energy, and time for the benefit of others. “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

  24. Sanjay says:

    @Joseph Butler – “but I have to ask myself, am I simply looking to confirm beliefs I already hold or am I wise enough to know that SOME people are rotten, but MOST people are not”

    Thanks – your comment is really enlightening – makes one wonder how much time we spend in a day just trying to reassure ourselves that we are right in our beliefs. I guess at the end of the day most of us simply are lazy to learn new things.

  25. Jessica says:

    I am by no means perfect and I don’t judge people for how they live their lives. To each his own. I will always gladly help someone out that has been affected by circumstances beyond their control and is doing their best to get back on track. I have on several occasions offered a homeless person $20 to mow my next door neighbor’s yard, which I normally do because she is very old and cannot do it herself, so everyone would win. I’m sure you can guess what response I always get.

    My parents taught me that if you want something, you have to work for it. If that’s where society has gotten off track then there’s something seriously wrong with that picture.

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