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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. Dave says:

    It is not ours to judge but to plant the seeds for Grace. If a buck is a seed I will plant it. The rich don’t need my money, just my prayers, the poor need both. As long as I can give and plant the seeds the Lord provides for me so I don’t end up on the needing end.
    In God We Trust.

  2. Mrs. Micah says:

    Generally, no. I do give to a group that helps with soup kitchens and the like. If people really are poor (not scammers) this will help them. If they’re scammers, they can buy their own food elsewhere. I occasionally offer to buy a sandwich for someone if that’s an easy option.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow. What horrible logic. Does this news story really validate ALL rumors about panhandlers that people hear? I guess I should stop reading ALL blogs because they ALL make logically-flawed statements. Good thing there is this ONE blog post to validate a conclusion about ALL blogs.

    With respect to the question posed, there is a high cost (time and effort) in identifying blogs worth reading and homeless people worth helping. Given the high cost of such information, it may be reasonable to just not read any blogs or give to any homeless people. I obviously read this blog (which I think is generally great), and I helped my father out after he was forced to vacate his home, was downsized, was depressed from his mother’s recent death and was living in his car without enough money to make a security deposit on a new apartment (no substance abuse issues).

    I do not give money to panhandlers, other than good performers. I do, however, feel sympathy for most homeless people. Many homeless people suffer from mental illnesses and even the ones who are homeless because of substance abuse issues are not living an enviable life.

  4. jim says:

    Anonymous: I should’ve been clearer about what I meant, I meant that it for many, it validates all the rumors in people’s minds. You are correct though, it was horrible logic but a lot of people feel this way, myself included, and I feel that my contributions to local soup kitchens and shelters are going towards solving those ills more effectively than going directly to the panhandlers. Sure the scamming panhandlers may still go to soup kitchens, but I feel as though my contribution goes farther there.

    I’m not saying that all panhandlers are scammers, but the ones that are and are publicized give the rest a bad name, I was curious what you all’s feelings were on the subject.

  5. Bad_Brad says:

    I do not give money to panhandlers, as I have absoultely no control over what they will do with it (most likely, buy booze or illegal drugs). What I say to these people is simply, “I will not give you money, however, as a Christian I shall not deny you aid, so if you peacefully come along with me, when I come to such a time as I am going to eat, I will feed you also.” I have had homeless people eat at restaurants with me (much to the horror of some of my friends).

  6. Matt says:

    I don’t give to panhandlers though I have purchased food for them before. A few times panhandlers used the “I’m hungry” line and I stopped and offered to get them a sandwich. To date:

    I’ve purchased food a couple times that I can remember for grateful people
    Gotten funny looks a few time
    Been told no that they want the money a few times.

    The worst thing about panhandlers (and the reason I simply ignore them now) is when they expect it and demand you to give them something. I was in a hurry walking to a meeting having a smoke and a panhandler asked me for a smoke; I shook my head and continued to walk (I’ve given this guy a smoke every now and then). He promptly started yelling profanities at me for not giving him something that I paid money I had earned for. The incident angered and frustrated me so much that I don’t give anything to panhandlers anymore.

  7. Deby says:

    I gave money once when I was young to a panhandler who intimidated me into yet. He then immediately said he was going to use the money to buy drugs. I’ve never given a dollar to anybody on the street since, as unfair as that may be to those who are truly in need.
    My BF, on the other hand, will give to anybody and everybody. One time he gave his last $20 to a man who claimed to be a down on his luck veteran (and looked the part). The look of sheer joy and surprise on the man’s face, and his enthusiastic thank you’s, made me ashamed of my own stinginess. Still, I prefer to give to organizations who I’m more sure will use the money for food and shelter, rather than booze and drugs.

  8. Sara A. says:

    My cousin used to give cold bottled water to panhandlers in the summer and snacks like peanut butter crackers in the winter. Then, one of the panhandlers got angry and threatening with her because she would not give money, and she stopped giving to panhandlers entirely.

    One time I was at a major intersection just after rush hour. The scruffy looking panhandler got into a black BMW parked at the light, and another scruffy panhandler got out of the car, took the first guy’s sign, and picked up right where he left off.

  9. dong says:

    I’m a bit shocked by the anger in the comments here. I personally don’t give to panhandlers not because I think I’m being scammed, though there are plenty of scams, but just because I rather as a policy I rather give to organizations that I think can make a more lasting impact. Better allocation of resources. While I believe circumstances are direct result of choices, it’s a little harsh to say the homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless. Hell, I want to be a billionaire, but that doesn’t just happen. Sure there are the homeless who actually have homes, but that’s exception rather than rule. A story about homeless person who doesn’t have a home isn’t very interesting. Clearly the homeless who are not mentally ill (and plenty are) have made poor choices in life. Should they reap the consequences of their decisions. Certainly. Should they also be shown some compassion? Definitely.

  10. Jadin says:

    i am really dismayed at the cold heartedness of some of your commentators. Whether you give to panhandlers or not is of course a choice, but, really, all these people are choosing to be poor, homeless, dirty, hungry? There is but a thin line between you and “them”. Violence (domestic, otherwise) and illness (including addiction) are life shattering.
    Every segment of life has its con artists, some con us from Wall Street others, Main Street, but to judge an entire group of people by them is ridiculous and ignorant.

  11. Lo. Price says:

    I know this is not exactly a problem with an easy solution, but I agree with others that I don’t give directly to panhandlers. I have given in the past and there are plenty of opportunities for me to give to panhandlers, since I live in a college town. I agree that it is better to give to organizations that serve the homeless, or even better, to volunteer with such organizations.

  12. Teri says:

    I encourage everyone NOT to give to panhandlers… Giving money on the street does NOT help, food/water may help for the moment. But if no one would hand over money then even those with addiction/mental problems would be more likely to go to an organization/program for help. A large majority of truly homeless are there because of mental and addiction issues. They need trained individuals who have the resources to get their problems addressed and get them placed in a safe environment. The scammers, well, then they would be out of a job. Let’s be compassionate by contributing our time and money to organizations that have at least a chance of truly helping these people. Think about donating to church organizations, local government shelters, United Way, the VA and other veterans’ organizations, etc. Addiction and mental illness are complicated issues that an individual $20 won’t cure, but a room safe from street violence, a dedicated counselor, and a network of support (for food, training,etc.) just might make a difference.

  13. Stephen says:

    Haha I love this.

    The girl’s story about being from Seattle really hits me, because I’m living in Seattle. We’ve got panhandlers/bums (whatever) in spades here. West Coast does in general.

    Do I give to them? Um no. Here if you did that, you’d quickly find yourself going broke. They’re more aggressive on the West Coast too, so it’s not unusual for a bum to heckle you or even follow you for a block or two. Just a case of growing thicker skin. Sure it seems like I’m a jerk, and I might be. But just cause you’ve got a sob story doesn’t mean I really owe you anything, I don’t have sucker written on my face after all.

    Really the most helpful thing you can do for a bum, is if they ask for money for food, etc is to call take them up. Say someone asks you for a few bucks for food. Best response is to take them to a convenience store and buy them some food, or a pizza place. 9 times out of 10 they’ll decline, because what they want is booze or drugs. Help them out by giving them what they ask for, not money.

  14. I don’t give to panhandlers either. I carry very little cash, opting to use credit cards for everything, so I can honestly reply, “sorry I don’t have any cash.”

    Once my stepfather and I were coming out of a grocery store and an old woman came up to ask for money for food. My stepfather said he won’t give her money but we were about to go get some tacos and offered to buy her something, and she said, “I don’t like tacos.”

  15. Almost never. Never say never you know? The thing is, if you offer to buy them food they usually get mad so screw it, you know? But if it looks like someone is actually hurt or hungry, I’m not made of stone.

  16. Frugal Babe says:

    I’ve given food to panhandlers several times. They always seemed grateful, and I think they really needed it. The library where I work collects food for a local food bank, and it makes it really easy to drop off canned goods when I get to work, so I do that every week. I’ve been known to occasionally give money to panhandlers when something tugged at my emotionally, but I know that in general it’s not a good idea, and it’s not something I do often.

  17. Jake says:

    I never give money but if I have the time and the look like they need it I”ll offer to buy them food.

    Every single time they’ve turned me down.

  18. Master Phu says:

    “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.”

    I firmly believe this. My parents are refugees from Vietnam. They were forced to leave everything behind when the Communists took over and came to a country where they didn’t know the language but used the existing government assistence programs to start a life here and to raise me. They didn’t complain about their situation and they most certainly didn’t panhandle.

    There’s no reason that immigrant families can survive in this country but someone who grew up here and knows the language can’t. So no I refuse to give money to panhandlers.

  19. Matt says:

    I don’t usually have cash on me, anymore. But when I do, I give.

    Is it possible that some of them are scammers? Yeah, I guess. But I’ve been entwined much more closely with scammers than that before, in my life. I came out of it OK.

    Is it possible that they’ll spend it badly? Sure. But then, it’s possible that anybody else I gave it to would spend it badly as well. In either case, that’s on their own head, not mine.

    To me, it’s just part of being thankful for all I have.

  20. ChihuahuaMama says:

    99% of them are richer than I am. I’ve also seen them hop into their new cars and drive off to a different shopping center for the rest of their “shift”.

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