273

Do you Give to Panhandlers?

in Give Back

Homeless Guy on the Street

I’m going to do something today that I haven’t done in a while.

I want to ask *you* a direct question.

You see a person on the street asking for help – asking for money or food.

What do you do?

There are more than a couple sides to this debate – and to get more information I called one of my best childhood friends who works every single day with the homeless on the streets of L.A.

He gave me his answer – which was a bit different than mine. I won’t provide you either (yet) – as I want to know your uninfluenced opinions on this.

When we get to L.A. in a couple months – Josh (my friend) has offered to take us into the streets with him, so we can see a peek behind the scenes of what goes on.

Let me start you off with this:

  • Does it matter if they are male or female?
  • Does it matter young or old… healthy-looking or scraggly and weak?
  • What if they ask for food outside a restaurant or fast food chain?
  • What if they asked for a cup of coffee as you walked into Starbucks (yesterday)?
  • What if you are overseas – in a third world country – instead of your home city?
  • What if they have a kid with them – does that change the equation?

I’d really appreciate hearing your perspective – the issue has really been weighing on my own heart. I’ll report back more once I hit the streets of L.A. myself (and use the discussion below in that post).

So here it is again (comment below)…

You see a person on the street asking for help – asking for money or food.

What do you do?

*****

{ 267 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan March 7, 2011 at 9:48 AM

Living in Toronto there are panhandlers everywhere, and it would be impossible to give to them all. I’ve become a bit pessimistic about the whole thing in the last while – too many stories of people who aren’t really homeless and do it just as a job, or the one or two people who freeze to death every year and are found with thousands of dollars on them. I know it’s not fair to lump everyone into this category, but the idea of giving money to someone who needs it less than I do is infuriating.
I justify this to myself by donating regularly to a charity I believe in, and only occasionally give to someone on the street (usually someone with a good story or pitch), and when I’m in a good mood about something else. Either that or after I’ve just spent money on something completely unnecessary (nothing like coming out of a liquor store with an arm full of booze and seeing someone standing on a frozen winter street to make you question your priorities).

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Whitney March 10, 2011 at 12:41 PM

I’ve given hundreds of dollars to homeless people (including family members) and in the long run have become jaded about this issue. Pan handlers are everywhere in Chicago and over the years it’s become easier to ignore them no matter how they look. If I feel compelled to give anything it’s food, and most of the time they’re not interested. I will however, give to someone who is offering me something in return. A joke, poem, music, some amount of effort can go a long way. (You can’t get something for nothing.)

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Gal @ Equally Happy March 11, 2011 at 3:16 PM

Evan, I see the same here in SF but it’s no reason not to give. If I have spare change that I don’t care about, I give it. Sure, maybe it’s a scam, maybe they’ll use it for drugs or maybe they’ll use it to feed their kids. I have no idea. All I know is that this money was doing me no good and it may in fact be doing them a lot of good.

In other words, it’s not about how much they need it, it’s more about how much I need it. if I don’t need it, I give it away. If I do need it, I keep it. No need to over think it or make yourself mad about what they may or may not be doing with it.

Also, if you can’t give money but still want to help, allow me to recommend volunteering. It’s a great way to spend an evening or a day. You’ll meet great new friends and give to a worthy cause. If you’re in the Bay Area, look into a group called One Brick (No, I am not associated with them in any way other than occasionally volunteering through them) which can get you exposure into a variety of volunteering possibilities.

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Alix March 7, 2011 at 10:04 AM

I know this doesn’t sound particularly kind or benevolent, but no, I normally do not give directly to panhandlers irrespective of race, gender, age, etc.

I DO, however, give to charitable organizations that help panhandlers. I’ve also volunteered and given food to panhandlers within a charitable context.

Does that make me a bad person in some people’s eyes? Maybe. But I can deal with that.

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ashley March 7, 2011 at 10:46 AM

My boyfriend is exactly the same and I think it actually makes you a great person. It speaks volumes to donate your time with charity which is more valuable than a couple bucks thrown from your pocket.

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jenelle March 7, 2011 at 11:50 AM

I agree with you Ashley and & Alix… I think it is much more valuable to donate to the charity vs. just handing out money to people on the street.

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Rachel Denning March 7, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I have a similar feeling.

Especially after traveling to ’3rd world’ countries, we saw first hand that giving handouts only ‘trained’ people (especially children) to learn to expect handouts.

Some people genuinely need help, but a lot of begging is learned behavior.

We give to trusted charities instead.

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Randy May 10, 2011 at 11:39 AM

I really like the way you used “trained”. I often feel that way about most “hand out” programs the government sponsors as well. Jon Stossel did a great report on fox news called freeloaders.

I see more and more people doing it, probably because they make more doing that than minimum wage emplyees do. I feel that giving to local organizations is the best way to help the homeless.

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Elle March 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM

We do give food to panhandlers – we feel like it’s a genuine request. While I will give money occasionally (gut check); we generally give money to organizations where we feel it would do the most good, like DonorsChoose.

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Jason Pelker March 7, 2011 at 2:32 PM

I’m with Elle; I could never say no to a food request. Hunger is just too easy to empathize. I give money (generally change) on approximately 1/10 asks, though.

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ashley March 7, 2011 at 10:18 AM

I’m in Toronto as well which is funny because so is the first commenter.

As a general rule – I don’t do one thing all the time. Like the above poster, it’s easy to become pessimistic and overwhelmed. There are a lot of people living on the streets in Toronto.

I NEVER give to someone busking or begging outside of a liquor store. Never ever. I appreciate the honesty but I don’t even put booze in my budget; there is no way I’m paying for someone else’s. I also don’t give to anyone with a clever sign for weed. Yes, your sign is funny. No, I’m not going to help you get high.

I give to charity every month and that normally helps subside my guilt; which sounds terrible, but it’s true. The last time I gave money to someone on the street was this terrible troubled young man who was strung out and desperate for water and a bus ride somewhere… I gave him chocolate almonds and pepsi (which were in my purse) and a bus token. Other than that, I’ll give to the street kids in Toronto with dogs and beg them to get some food for the pup.

When I lived in Italy I couldn’t stop giving to people with children. It just breaks my heart. I know it didn’t help them… but I guess often we give to people on the street not because we believe a few dollars will help them out but because it eases our guilt for a few minutes and makes us feel like we’re helping without actually putting in any effort.

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Jason March 7, 2011 at 10:18 AM

To be quite honest, it depends.

I don’t give money *everyone* who panhandles. In fact, I hardly ever give money. I have often given food to folks who look down-and-out. I have also decided to carry some extra soup cans in my car for just the situations where someone needs some food.

Another thing that I had done to help the homeless was volunteer at a homeless shelter. I worked every Wednesday teaching a computer class to help people get some familiarity, find jobs, and create resumes. That was my favorite volunteer activity ever.

It may sound kind of mystical, but sometimes I get a feeling when I see someone that I sense legitimately needs food or money or even something else. I believe in those moments God is asking me to pass on some blessings that He’s given me.

If you want to experience some awesome good-feelings, carry a couple extra jackets or coats in your trunk. You will one day come across someone who needs one, and you’ll both feel great about it.

-j

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Suddenly Susan March 7, 2011 at 10:19 AM

No, I don’t give money to panhandlers. There are places for people to go to get resources, ie. food & housing. Often times, the life out on the street is a chosen one over having to follow “rules” in shelters. I get that. However, having said that, I have bought sandwiches when I’ve gone into the store and seen someone on the sidewalk. I try to remember that we’re all human beings and the last thing we might have is a little dignity. When I do give, there are no strings attached. It’s a tough question.

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nicepear March 15, 2011 at 1:08 PM

One other thing that is important to remember is that there are not enough resources to administer to all the needs. Sometimes a person on the streets has tried to get into a shelter but there simply was not enough room or enough food in the lunchline.

Furthermore, shelters for families and couples are even rarer, and so often a couple’s only way to spend the day or night together is to spend it on the street. Or the shelters that require you to be clean to stay there, but don’t have enough space in their addictions programs to help you get clean. Sometimes the “rules” just aren’t fair.

I understand not wanting to give money to panhandlers and rarely do it myself, but to say that decision has some of it’s merit in the fact that some homeless are choosing not to take advantage of the resources available to them is unfair.

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wilson March 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM

is crazy that you bring this up today, just yesterday I was stopped at a light and there was a guy there with a sign, asking for help. I immediately reached for my pockets, nothing, car surroundings, nothing. I felt so bad. I usually do given them something if it just a penny, more usually a buck if I can. My girlfriend and I have drove back and brought people food, its just a natural thing for us.

So I do, I help. You never know that person could be you, a friend, or family in the future. If you don’t feel like offering money then at least bring them a Mcchicken or something.

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Helena C March 7, 2011 at 10:26 AM

When I lived in New Zealand, the supermarket had a collection area for food donations for a foodbank and I bought items for that everyweek when I did my rgular shop.

The supermarkets in the UK do not do this (and I miss it) so I have given money to one f the local, not church related, homeless helping charities.

I often give money to buskers. If asked specifically for food or coffee at the doorway to a takeaway ro cafe that I am going into then I do buy something for them. I never jsut give money.

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Helena C March 7, 2011 at 10:29 AM

oh and I forgot the question about if you are in a foreign country – On a recent trip to several countries in Africa with a group of friends we agreed before hand to make a good size donation to a charity and also contacted a local workshop helping mothers with AIDS and asked if there were things we could usefully bring with us – they requested sewing supplies. While in Africa we pooled all of our small change and gave that to panhandlers, particularly children, mothers and old women.

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frugalapolis March 7, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Yes. We noticed a guy who doesn’t panhandle on streets, but he sits on the guardrail under a bridge all the time. When we go motorcycling around on weekends to Publix to get coupon deals, we always get stuff for Bill. We give him fruit and vegetables, deli food and snacks. We ask him what he wants, but he doesn’t want anything specific, saying “he’ll take what he can get”. He’s 27, but looks 40. HIs bicycle has tons of bags hanging from the handlebars loaded with who knows what. He says he sits in the same spot so people know where to find him. I think he gets a good amount of donations from regular passer bys. One thing he loved the most was a flashlight, so he can be “legal” and have a light for his bike because the po po always used to stop him for no light.

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Gillian @OneGiantStep March 7, 2011 at 10:31 AM

I believe it’s our responsibility, as a part of society, to help those that are not as well off as ourselves. What that looks like depends on the person and their own situation. I choose to give to local charities that promote helping street people although I do sometimes give directly also. When I give directly I give freely; meaning that I give it with the understanding that the money may be spent on food or shelter, but that it also might be spent on drugs, booze or cigarettes. Once I give the money it is truly up to that person to spend it as they see fit; poor people also have the right to a little pleasure in their lives and should not have to be pure and vice-free just because they are poor. I have the same policy when traveling although I do not give directly b/c it can lead to an overwhelming situation. I will be interested to hear, Adam, what your friend has to say from the on the front lines. Cheers!

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Jenn Miller March 7, 2011 at 10:33 AM

Interesting question.
In the USA or Canada we are less likely to give to panhandlers… but sometimes do. I gave to one guy who had a sign once that said, “Need booze” just because I thought he should get five extra points for HONESTY about where the money was going! ;)

We travel for a living and when outside the first world we are much more likely to give to panhandlers. We’ll often buy a meal and sit and hear their story, or a sack of groceries. In places like Guatemala, where we live now, and Tunisia, or other third world, male dominated societies we ALWAYS give to the women who are panhandling as MOST of them are without any other means of support. If your husband and sons die or disappear down here there is very little left in terms of options for women with no education and no work experience beyond living in their hut, taking care of said men, and perhaps weaving.

Clearly, we can’t give to everyone. However, our general life philosophy revolves around the principles of Grace and Generosity: Grace: any day of the week the tables could turn and WE could be homeless and left to panhandling. Judgement is not what’s needed, help is. Which brings us to Generosity: “How can I help/bless/encourage/lift up this person… panhandler, backpacker, CEO of a major corp. who’s broken down by the roadside, dentist we visit in Panajachel, makes no difference who it is. Every single person in this world is suffering in some way… some externally, some internally… Generosity seems to be the best way to lift people up and move people forward… with Grace attached to it.

Of course, we get taken advantage of sometimes. But does that really matter? We’re firm believers in “you reap what you sow” and the concept of “karma.” We’d rather get ripped off, laughed at, taken advantage of every so often and leave it to god, or the universe, or whatever, to sort out those details than miss the opportunity to bless someone else. It’s just money. We’re RICH beyond measure compared to most of the world… why would we not give so little, when it can mean so much?

We support charitable organizations that work to alleviate the underlying problems as well… I’ve got huge respect for people like your friend in LA who dig in, get knee deep in people’s lives and really spend some time working to be agents of change. Those folks need to be well funded too.

Grace. Generosity.

My two cents.

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thom March 7, 2011 at 10:35 AM

never with cash. if they want food or coffee, i’d gladly do it.

this may make me sound like a jerk, but i feel that cash only encourages them to continue panhandling, instead of getting real help.

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Radman March 7, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Yep, I’d agree with you – jerk. Not all those you see have the mental or physical abilities to seek (or know how to get) help.

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Joshua Carmody March 7, 2011 at 3:02 PM

I do agree that some people just can’t help themselves. This is something many people don’t realize when they make the “they could work at McDonalds, or wash dishes, or something”. No. Not everyone can. For one thing, jobs are really hard to find right now in some areas. But that’s not the only reason.

I know someone who has a severe anxiety disorder, and it has prevented him from getting and keeping many jobs. He had to quit a job at a fast food restaurant on his second day because he just couldn’t handle it. Not having that problem myself, I used to think he could just “power through it” or “toughen up”. But after seeing him throw up, hyperventilate, collapse to the ground, and even get rushed to the hospital once after having an anxiety attack, I realized that his limitations were a lot more severe that I had admitted, and I was a lot more sympathetic.

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Angelwins March 24, 2011 at 2:23 AM

Thom:

Unlike Radman, I do not think you are a jerk, you at least take action and do what your conscience dictates. You at least do something. Name-calling is never the solution to anything.
Once, I saw my grandfather, a very religious man, writing a check to send to a radio evangelist that my invalid grandmother liked to listen to. This evangelist had been recently exposed, in spectacular fashion, as a scam artist, and I told my grandfather so.
His response was that he gave as he felt moved to do so, that he had listened to the evangelist and heard truth in his message and saw that it comforted and encouraged
my grandmother. He said that he left it to the Lord to use his donation to bless someone, and that he sent that prayer with every donation that he made. I use his reasoning and his prayer when I make donations today, whether to individuals or to organizations.
Keep up the good work, Thom, and may God bless you and the ways in which you help others.

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Radman March 24, 2011 at 10:46 PM

Thanks for the reply comment. Dialog is “most” always healthy for working out the issues. It always helps to have the views discussed whether you think they are right or wrong just as long as it is discussed with an open mind – (in other words, to each his own, but lets talk it out with the hopes of making our environment a better place to work and live). I have more to say but I’m tight on time now so bare with me.

Coming from rags, then to mass riches, almost insane riches (both financially & spiritually), then back again by my own idiotic choices, my views have changed and matured on this and many other issues. I pray that my choices are better from now on. I’ll let you know later on how this particular point and my experiences have changed my thoughts 180 degrees.

I’m glad this post has received so much interest/comments. It hits everyone one way or another. From the looks of it, it will continue to be controversial for some time to come.

Again, thanks – I appreciate the feedback. Good luck with all of your future ventures.

Till later – the Radman

PS – name calling is never called for – I was just agreeing with the person who posted it and apologize if it hurt or offended anyone in anyway.

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Jennifer March 7, 2011 at 10:41 AM

I do occasionally give to people. I don’t know what it is, but some tug on my heart-strings more than others. I haven’t noticed anything specific about the ones who make me feel like I should give to them. I rarely see women out asking for money here, so in my experience I give to men. I do give money. My husband won’t give money, but he will go buy food or an article of clothing. Once there was a man who was holding a sign saying he needed socks, so my husband went and bought him some. I really dislike when I come across someone whom I feel compelled to help and find that I don’t have any cash in my pocket/purse to share.

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Cherie @Technomadia March 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM

Sometimes?

There are some we encounter who seem to make it a career to stand on street corners, and have perfected the art of making an engaging cardboard sign. So no, don’t tend to give to them.

But I will give to those who I sense are really and truly trying to work their way out of their situation. On our little island here, there’s a lady who sometimes hangs around one of the markets. She’s not just asking for money tho. She’s selling fresh flowers she’s picked (from where? actually.. don’t know… for all I know I’m encouraging petty theft). She’s not asking for a complete handout – and is trying to provide value. So, we bought flowers from her.. and sure enough, as soon as we completed our exchange, she went into the market and bought food for a meal for her family.

I also regularly give & loan through various charities and Kiva.org.

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Sarah Russell March 7, 2011 at 10:45 AM

Honestly, it depends on whether or not I’ve got extra money on me or not. If yes, and I don’t have another specific use for the money (like I’m on my way to get lunch), then sure. I believe that sheer luck and circumstance play a huge role in the fact that I’m blessed to be fed, sheltered and warm (usually) – why shouldn’t I share that blessing with others?

And I’ll go out on a limb and say that I don’t really care if a panhandler uses the money I give him/her to buy food, alcohol, whatever. If I give you a gift, it’s yours to spend freely on whatever you choose. As I’ve never been homeless, I don’t fully know what the experience is like, and don’t feel like I can judge the decisions that other people make in those circumstances.

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Maureen Thomson March 7, 2011 at 10:45 AM

In the this US, I don’t give money to ;panhandlers. I just think assume many of them are going to use it on drink and quite honestly, I don’t want to encourage more of them to hang out on street corners asking for money. Because I can’t assess their true “need” situation, I’m not comfortable giving them cash.

However, when I am in a foreign country, I am more likely to give. Most of these folks know real poverty and it’s heartbreaking to see an elderly blind person sitting in a doorway with a cup extended.

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John March 7, 2011 at 10:48 AM

I am totally unabashidly capricious about it. Sometimes I give money and sometimes I don’t. More likely to give to women and children and I never give out of my car. What I don’t do is feel ashamed about it. Yes, there are people out there who have less fortunate situations than I do, but I also know working for the government that there are ways to help. The main reason I do not feel ashamed about it is because I know I do my best in other ways to help the problem. I donate both time and money to programs I feel make a difference and as long as I feel I am doing what I can I am generally ok with myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel sorry for that particular individual that is putting their hand in front of me, but I know I can’t save everyone.

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John A. Hayner March 7, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Do I give Money to pan handlers on the street?
I almost never carry cash on me, so my answer is almost always the same: “sorry, I don’t have any cash”. but there have been instances where I do have a couple bucks and will say to myself “eh, what the heck, it’s between them and God if they do something stupid with the money” and then hand over a couple bucks in the hopes that it helps.

Does is matter if they are male or female? To me it tugs at the heartstrings different if I see a guy or a girl, or worse yet, kids. if its a guy sitting there my first thought is “lazy” or that he could get a job somewhere. If its a woman or children i tend to think that some guy stuck them in that situation and that i should help somehow.

Does it matter young or old… healthy-looking or scraggly and weak?
Kids young yes. 20s or 30s vs. old not really.

What if they ask for food outside a restaurant or fast food chain?
If they are asking for food instead of money then it seems to me like they actually need it more.

What if they asked for a cup of coffee as you walked into Starbucks (yesterday)?
If its cold out i’d probably consider it. It wouldn’t be Starbucks though. If i was going to spend way too much $ on a coffee it would probably be a Biggby (yeah local homegrown company).

What if you are overseas – in a third world country – instead of your home city?
Oversees i don’t. That’s where i would count on organized aid to help people.

What if they have a kid with them – does that change the equation?
yeah. seeing a truly helpless kid like that just stinks.

Does anyone else ever wonder in the cases where you do give someone some money if they are actually going to spend it on food or shelter, or buying that first clean pair of clothes so they can get a job? or if its just going to the local party store for a hip-flask of jack, or to the corner dealer for another sort of addiction? I’m curious what others think.

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Freedom | Rethinking the Dream March 7, 2011 at 10:58 AM

Our panhandlers are usually the Interstate offramp variety. I typically give them a dollar. A dollar is really not much to me, yet I imagine it helps these individuals live the life they choose. I used to be more judgemental, but in the last couple of years I have decided it’s not my place to judge others. They have every right to choose their way of life, whether or not I agree with it. And I’d rather take the chance of giving a dollar to someone who doesn’t need it rather than withholding from someone who does.

On a related note, when I get the rare panhandler that approaches me to explain their situation, I would prefer to hear the truth or at least a very creative work of fiction. I’m not a big fan of the “I am applying for jobs and my car ran out of gas.”

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Christina March 7, 2011 at 11:03 AM

I do not give money to someone on the street. I do give them respect. There is no way I’m going to pretend they don’t exist and make sure to at least say hi. But with money, instead we have supported projects like the Women’s Bean Project. “Since 1989, Women’s Bean Project has been dedicated to helping women break the cycle of poverty and unemployment.”
http://www.womensbeanproject.com/whatwomensay.html

Instead of buying processed food, we save money buying their dry bean/spices mixes that are my favorite ever and very healthy. In Denver, CO we can find Toni’s 10 Bean Mix available at every market. I feel 15 years of patronage has been a smarter investment in helping women learn skills, which helps their families immediately.

On the other hand, after following Project 5050 on twitter, I’ve been blown away with their work. Such as finding a need on the streets (like a man with a broken bike chain) and instantly fixing the problem or asking twitter followers for help. I’m gathering socks to donate when they come through our state.
http://twitter.com/Project5050

So I’m open to good ideas that makes sure money isn’t wasted.

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Tim March 7, 2011 at 11:25 AM

I give to some panhandlers, but not all, as sometimes I don’t have cash or restaurant gift cards to give them.

I was in St Petersburg, FL last summer and a homeless man asked me for money, but instead I invited him into Starbucks with me and let him order whatever he wanted.

A few weeks ago, I saw a man holding a sign asking for money for food; since I didn’t have cash, I drove to Chick-fil-A, bought a gift card, drove back to where I saw the man and gave him the gift card. I did a similar thing at a local burger place; while in the drive-thru I saw a man digging through garbage cans for leftover food, so I purchased a gift card and gave it to him to use.

I prefer to give food or gift cards so that I know the money is being put to good use. I probably shouldn’t care, but I’d prefer that money I give to those in need not be used toward drugs or alcohol.

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Deanna McNeil March 7, 2011 at 11:26 AM

I have never known what to do. I have fed people on the spot but basically, as a person who personally requires medicine every day to remain mentally stable, I fully appreciate how often someone may need far more than a bit of cash for medicine (wait, who diagnosed them, so a docor visit) and dental care and on & on it goes.

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Cara March 7, 2011 at 11:32 AM

I never used to give to panhandlers, but since moving to NYC I have changed some. I see many homeless people, and plenty of buskers in the subway. At this point my personal rule is that if I happen to have change or a buck in my pocket, then I give it to someone. I prefer to give to someone who is busking (playing music, etc) but if I come across someone panhandling I will give what’s in my pocket to them. I prefer to give to adults because I think often the kids are working for someone else. Gender doesn’t matter to me, though I do try to give to people who look sober.

Other than that little bit, I give to my church, which has a large homeless outreach program (shelter and soup kitchen),

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Robin March 7, 2011 at 11:33 AM

No, I never give to panhandlers- This is America the land of opportunity! People can wash windows,do yard work, clean houses, wash dishes in a restaurant etc..
If someone is on the side of the road and I happen to have some fruit/food in the car I will give them food only no $$.

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Nancy L. March 7, 2011 at 11:34 AM

I lived in NYC for many years, and NO, I would not give money to panhandlers. I *will* however, give money freely to people who are being proactive, such as by busking or by offering to do small tasks in exchange for money. I also will freely support endeavors such as “Street News” (I don’t know if it’s still around or still respected, but it was a great idea when it started out) or organizations such as “Dress for Success” that help people move away from the streets.

I will support anyone who is actively working to better their situation. I won’t support people that just want handouts because they have nothing.

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Farnoosh March 7, 2011 at 11:57 AM

Yes, I am totally with Nancy on this one.

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Katie March 7, 2011 at 11:35 AM

I live in Chicago and see panhandlers often. I won’t give money, as I worry it will be used for drugs or boos. I often give food or a cup of coffee. Sometimes if they’re near a store I’ll stop in and buy something relatively healthy and generally appealing (i.e. milk, a lunchable). In the winter I often give things like hand warmer packets, gloves, hats or scarves.

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heather March 7, 2011 at 11:37 AM

I keep a box of granola bars in my car and give them to panhandlers when they are at traffic lights. This is by far the most common scenario right now. I rarely walk in places where I’m solicited around here, so that’s not much been an issue.

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Cate March 7, 2011 at 11:48 AM

That is a GREAT idea! I hardly ever carry cash on me and always feel bad ignoring panhandlers at traffic lights, so I think next time I go grocery shopping I’ll pick up a box of granola bars and stash it in my car.

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atishaya March 7, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Interesting timing on this question. This issue has recently been debated heavily in the Tampa Bay area and was a big issue in our municipal elections (March 1st). There has been a big push to ban panhandling here, with one bay area city banning it and another about to. It has raised huge questions about what to do to help the homeless in meaningful ways. In general I believe in helping out people in need and who want to create a better life for themselves. To that end, I have contributed over the years to food programs and other non-profits working to reduce poverty in the US, Haiti, India, and Africa. I do not give money to panhandlers on the streets EVER, as I don’t think it serves people long-term! I do hand out pre-printed coupons for a local food pantry and a list of emergency/social services contact information for people who are truly in need of services.

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Joshua | The Minimalists March 7, 2011 at 11:37 AM

I’m torn on this issue for one reason: there are some people who genuinely need help, and there are others who are looking for a handout.

The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to discern who is who in that equation.

I work at soup kitchens from time to time to help with charity here in Dayton. At the last event, we fed 215 people, which sounds great.

And I can tell you that there were probably 70 people there who really needed the help (viz. they might have starved to death without the daily meals there).

There were another 70 people who were questionable but probably or might have needed they help.

The remaining 70 didn’t need help at all (I saw three people with iPhones among them).

My answer: sometimes you have to help the people who don’t need help in order to help the people who do.

Take care,

Joshua Millburn

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amanda March 8, 2011 at 3:14 PM

I have a deaf friend with an iPhone through the local company for $30 and $1 a month through a program. I agree in general people with iPhones shouldn’t be getting food assistance. However, it shouldn’t be the only thing looked at in terms of need.

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Carolyn R March 7, 2011 at 11:39 AM

I am a very giving person but when it comes to pan handlers I am not so giving. Not to say I don’t help any pan handlers, I just am very leery when they approach me. I feel most of the time they are lying about why they need the money. It just doesn’t fly with me. I also think many choose to live that way. This economy has made it very hard for my family to survive. I did not choose to support them. In the past we have had to rely on public assistance such as food stamps. But we made sure we found our way out of that position. That’s why it is there to help you through the rough times. Not to be taken advantage of. To the ones that have fallen on hard times I am so happy to help. For the others, we know there is help for them if they choose to accept it.

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Candace March 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM

When I was younger(under 18) I would at times give money if I was in the city. I’m from the country so it was new to me. At 18 I moved to the city(Chicago) and after living there, you realize how many people are just doing it as a job, or you see kids asking for money but they’re dressed in expensive clothes, all clean. I also lived around the corner from a mens shelter, and they were always asking for money. There were times when I’d have left over food from a restaurant, and if you offered it in lieu of money, the hungry ones would take it, the ones just wanting money would get pissed. I stopped giving anything. The only exception is that, when you do live in the city and see it everyday, you start to learn who really is the most needy. And 9 times out of 10, they aren’t the ones asking for food or money.

Most of the people I know who have lived in the city(Chicago) agree that they too don’t give money, as it usually is just people who do it as a job.

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Jonathan Blundell March 7, 2011 at 11:46 AM

If I have something to give – I give.

I believe I’ve been blessed to be a blessing to others.

One thing I think we tend to forget is those who are living on the streets don’t always need just food or money. If it’s a woman, they may need sanitary products. Most men and women will always accept a fresh pair of socks. And sometimes they’ll gladly accept someone just willing to listen and be a friend.

Check out invisiblepeople.tv for more stories, or listen to Mark Horvath’s story on my podcast http://www.somethingbeautifulpodcast.com/podcast/2-8-3-mark-horvath-remix/

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Brigitte March 7, 2011 at 11:46 AM

This is something I struggle with, but my default is not to give directly. There are a few reasons for this. I volunteer my time with a wonderful local organization (Chicago Cares) and donate my dollars to a variety of charitable causes.

This feels shameful to admit, but some of the homeless in Chicago are rough, and that makes me hesitant. I’ve had people follow me while screaming obscenities, walk towards me with their pants unzipped and…well, I think you get the drift…threaten my friends with violence and get into fights with other homeless people right in front of me. This obviously isn’t the case with all or most homeless people or panhandlers, but I don’t know what measure I’d use to judge my own safety.

I’ve never been asked to provide food or coffee. I’m not certain what I’d do, but I’d be much more inclined. There’s something about stopping on the street, looking into my purse and digging around for bills that makes me feel vulnerable.

Regarding overseas requests: in my experience (Peru, mainly), most people have some trinket to exchange – gum, a keychain, a cola, whatever. I don’t need or want said trinket, but I’m much more likely to give directly in the guise of a purchase. I think the exchange gives me a feeling of safety, which I’ve never properly examined before now.

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Jessica March 7, 2011 at 11:49 AM

My husband and I were just talking about this the other day because when we see someone or they ask us for money we want to help, but we don’t always feel comfortable taking out cash sometimes. Part of me thinks it best to keep just a couple small bills around in easy to reach places to give out, that way I don’t have to dig in my purse to find some money.

Another idea that actually sparked our conversation was to keep some gift cards on us to give out to people who we see that are in need. It doesn’t have to be a lot, $5 for Dunkin Donuts, $10 to the grocery store, $5 at McDonalds. But to have something on us other than cash would be great sometimes. And part of that is not just handing to people on the street who are asking, but also giving to the person who just seems down on their luck at the grocery store. Or someone who just seems to be having a bad day. There were a ton of great ideas for other ways to give back then just cash at http://www.joycemeyer.org/theloverevolution.htm.

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jforest March 7, 2011 at 11:50 AM

I usually do not give money to panhandlers. I have, and I will again, but it’s rare. I think if they had a child with them, I would be more inclined to give, I haven’t seen that before however.

I live in Boston and see my fair share of panhandlers daily. As well as people asking me to sign petitions or take a survey or donate to a charity. I start to feel the same way about all of them after a while. I can’t give or answer or sign or donate because if I do, I’ll have to endure more and more harassment every day. I know that is selfish of me, but honestly on the way home from work, all I want to do is go home and see my child and my girlfriend. I don’t want to spend 10 minutes extra on top of my hour long commute answering questions, or being asked for donations or handouts.

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Todd March 7, 2011 at 11:55 AM

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t give money directly, but do/have give food, clothing, blankets, etc. I’d absolutely buy a coffee (drip–no Venti iced Frapacino, extra whip and caramel). I do give money to a charity that helps the poor/homeless.

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jenelle March 7, 2011 at 11:55 AM

I have never given money to panhandlers… I don’t believe I ever will. There are a lot of them around here that sit with their signs and have cell phones, ipods, etc in their hand. That’s not the reason I don’t give them money though. There are so many resources for them, especially around here, that I much prefer to give to those facilities (such as food banks, tent cities, winter shelters, etc.) as I feel those resources are put to better use than me just giving a dollar here and there to whoever asks.

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Farnoosh March 7, 2011 at 11:55 AM

No. Absolutely and positively no. Flat-out, non-exceptional big capital letter NO. I am in this world to support people who want to help themselves rather than feed off the work and effort and sweat of others. I would – and do – support a penniless musician for his art, a penniless writer for his work and a penniless child selling lemonade for his effort but never ever a beggar’s hand because I have been poor once and there is no excuse in this world that he/she, whatever their situation, cannot stand up on their own, start from nothing and get somewhere. There is no reason good enough but yes, there are one thousand and one excuses. This is not about compassion at all because I see clearly that every pan handler I have met has clearly capabilities to do something to GIVE to society before he BEGS society to give to him/her. So, my position is no, if I didn’t make it clear enough :) ….

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susie@newdaynewlesson March 7, 2011 at 12:32 PM

I agree that at times we need to at times be a bit picky about who we give, there are cons out there.

Like you,I do like giving to musicians and people doing something.

That said, I also think that if I have the ability to give, it is not necessarily my place to make the judgment about whether or not the person is worthy of my help. I give because it gives ME the opportunity to be a better person.

Old people are my achilles heal and I give them-I don’t care. I also try to buy them food instead of giving money.

If someone is smoking , then i generally do not give. I understand smoking is an addiction, yet if it was a choice between cigarettes or food? I don’t know-I have never smoked. (Is that making me judgemental, i don’t know.)

In short, if it feels right, I give.

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Melanie @TravelToast.com March 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

I can’t speak to every situation, but I believe that it is never wrong to give. The ways we help can take many forms, depending on our own discernment. Sometimes your efforts are well-received, and other times they are not. Some people will waste your gifts, and others might find hope in them. Just know that a small gift can make all the difference to someone who has lost all hope, but it may take years and you will never know it.

For example:

My brother-in-law was a troubled young man who got involved in drugs and gangs. His grandmother came to visit during the height of his troubles, when the entire family had shunned him. Seeing an easy mark in his trusting and kindly grandma, he asked her for money (to buy drugs). Everyone in the family warned her against giving to him, but overwhelmed with love and hope for her grandson, she opened up her purse and gave him the few dollars she had.
Long story short: He did end up using the money to buy drugs, but years later it was the memory of this one act of pure charity and love that caused him to turn his life around. He later finished school, went to seminary and became a priest, and now works with inner-city kids. He credits his grandmother’s little act of charity for sparking this amazing change.

I try to keep this story I mind when confronted with someone who might misuse my charity. It helps me to let go and let a gift be a gift.

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Rory March 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

I wish I could say I had a well-worked-out set of criteria by which I handle situations like this, but I don’t. Sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t. I don’t know that it’s necessarily always my responsibility to worry about what they do with the money; perhaps sometimes it is, but I can’t always tell when it is and when it isn’t.

My favorite thing to do is to order too much food at a restaurant in the city – when I know I’ve got a walk back to the train – and give a bunch of leftovers to someone sitting on the corner. That way, at least one of their meals is taken care of, and I know it’s good food. Restaurant serving sizes are generally ridiculous anyways, so I can usually spare the extra few bucks for getting a little bit more.

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Chris Czarnecki March 7, 2011 at 12:09 PM

First, thanks for the great question Baker. This is something I try to self-analyze occasionally but don’t have any good answers.
I do not typically give money to panhandlers regardless of their appearance, method of asking or location. However, I am more likely to give to are those who have an obvious disability. There is something in me that says I shouldn’t enable a panhandler who is able-bodied and therefore, from my viewpoint, potentially able to work for his food (or beer or smokes or whatever). This may sound a bit callous and I know my view of their life is VERY limited to the superficial, but it’s a judgment I have to make too often.
I prefer to give through charities is the bottom line. I am rethinking my stance on this, however, and think that some direct non-monetary contribution to those in need would be beneficial.

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Michele March 7, 2011 at 12:17 PM

There are so many great comments above. I have been chastized many times by friends who say I am foolish to give on the streets but I do it anyways. I do it because it I feel blessed to have enough to share with others and it makes me feel good to share. There is always someone who is in need more than I am. I do tend to go in spurts though, sometimes giving more often and other times not for a dry spell. I give when I can on the streets, I am usually drawn by an internal tug, Food, if I have some in the car or money if I have dollars – some times I will do a month campaign where I carry one dollar bills to give @ least 2 people a day some cash, I saw someone do this in New York and it thought it was a great idea. I don’t judge them for if they are truly homeless or it is their “job” as a few bucks either way doesn’t hurt me.

I did get angry at myself for a brief moment when I gave money and apples to a guy and then after realized he had on bright clean new tennis shoes, but then told myself he could have gotten them from someone or a shelter. It passed.

I live in Seattle and do carry several inexpensive umbrellas in my car and hand them out when I see someone in the pouring rain. Sometimes it is a business person waiting for a bus.

I do a coat drive @ work every November and then take items down to the homeless park hangout or the Union Gospel Mission. I clean out my closet for warm items to donate and also collect coats and blankets from co-workers. This past year we got tons of blankets, a couple sleeping bags and plenty of sweat shirts, coats and scarves.

I do a lot of volunteer work with several homeless associations in my local area as well as the Union gospel Mission and foster care services.

I know I could always do or give more and sometimes do. It is a very selfless act for those who devote their lives to helping others and I admire that. We all can help in one way or another, be it big or small.

What I know for sure is that giving without judgement or strings attached is the most fullfilling for any of us and truly at times it is a hard task to just give and let go.

I think today I will make a point to help someone in need. Thanks for the reminder.

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Robin March 7, 2011 at 12:24 PM

I’m lucky to live in a town where there is a minimum of panhandling, so maybe that’s why I still feel sympathy when I see someone standing on a corner with a sign. When I’m in the city, I can see where the sheer volume of homeless people could overwhelm the charitable urge.

Meanwhile, I do give to panhandlers. I don’t care if they’re using it for drugs or if it’s their job, because it’s got to be a lousy way to make life work. I’m fortunate to be comfortable, warm and well-fed, and I believe every act of giving creates an outward effect of positive change in the world.

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MainlineMom aka Sarah March 7, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Yeah, that’s how I feel. I give out of the overflow of my life, hoping to effect positive change…whether it’s in the life of the person I’m giving to, my own life, or the life of someone who might observe. You just never know.

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lostAnnfound March 7, 2011 at 12:27 PM

I don’t give money to panhandlers. I do give money/donate clothing & other items to the homeless shelter and also give money/food to the food pantry in our city where people can go in and get a hot meal.

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Tracy March 7, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Having lived in NOLA and NYC I have seen my fair share of panhandlers.
In NOLA there are “quarter rats” better known as teens who prefer to beg for cash than to live at home. Some are passing through and didn’t budget for the last binge and are now stuck ect. ect. There was also a handicapped man who paid for nothing while out: food ,beer, spare change… turns out the man owns a house and has a wife siting at home (capable and working)
In NYC various degrees of people with signs. The well dressed, clean ones who pitch you, and my favorite…. A man who resides in my last apartment building. He simply rounds the corner (so as not to solicit in front of the building) and asks for spare change. Not recognizing me one day, he asked me to spare some change. I refrained from explaining exactly why it was NO.
NYC also has musician panhandlers, who in my opinion are working for the money they seek. (providing a service in exchange for money) And I have, when I enjoy a performance, given to the performers.
Having barely scratched the surface of the types of panhandlers in NYC or any city for that means. And not getting into opinions about those who genuinely need help but refuse to get it any other way than begging off those who feel pity or guilt.
I can say that under 99% of circumstances presented I will not give. There are charities who provide this help and giving to those is a better use of money.

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Keri March 7, 2011 at 12:30 PM

Great question! It’s one my husband & I have made a plan for. We are Americans living in Europe, and we do a lot of traveling with our 4 kids (which means, we’re kind of easy to distract if we’re not prepared).

We have decided that when someone comes to you and looks you in the eye, we give something. We do not give to those who may be involved in human trafficking (like the women you see all over Paris, London or Rome with the same MO), not even to the women themselves, who are quite often the victims, because the money does not go to them, it goes to organized crime group behind the scenes.

On the home front (in Germany) I personally give money to the old guy on the bridge in the wheelchair every time I see him.

We always give money to anyone who performs, whether it’s a guitar, violin, accordion with a dancing dog, or a harmonica. At least it’s something.

If someone asked for food or drink, yes, absolutely.

The only caveat to all this giving, is that I will not give if I feel my personal safety (or that of my children) is in jeopardy. But normally that only occurs when I’m alone. My husband & I are a team, and when we travel we can watch each other’s back.

Basically, we give to all who ask. It’s not some kind of benevolent act to make us feel better about ourselves, but it serves as a reminder of how much our family truly has.

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Joshua Carmody March 7, 2011 at 12:39 PM

I used to give to anyone who asked me, if I had cash on me. Last year I downgraded it to “sometimes”, because I suspected I’d been taken advantage of at least a few times.

One thing that will almost always prevent me from giving is if it appears I’m being lied to. I once had 5 or 6 people give me almost the exact same story about having their car break down and needing money for a cab/tow-truck/repair/etc so they could get home. Some of these people, after taking my money, would then walk in the opposite direction of where their story suggested they were going. It’s possible that at least one of these people was telling the truth, but there’s no way they all were.

I was also approached once by a young man who appeared to be wearing completely brand new, like off-the-rack-new, big-brand clothes including expensive-looking Nike shoes. He asked me for “$5 to buy a sandwich”. I declined because I found it very hard to believe he actually needed money (although I guess somebody could have donated the clothes to him?).

It can be hard to be sure if someone is telling the truth or not, or if they really need the money or not, but it is now my inclination to avoid helping people if something about them or their story makes me suspicious. However, if I suspect the person really does need help I always try to help them. On one occasion I picked up a man whose car had broken down and drove him to a nearby station.

Regarding your questions about asking for food outside a fast food place or a coffee on the way in to a Starbucks, I think I would pretty much always offer my help. It’s easy and not very expensive, it seems more believable, and even if someone *was* just trying to take advantage of me, they wouldn’t be able to do it much. It’s not practical to stockpile 40 cups of coffee and 100 cheeseburgers in your car and then eat them weeks later or sell them to passerby.

Not sure how kids would affect me. So far nobody asking me for money has ever been accompanied by children.

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K April 21, 2011 at 9:28 PM

A guy got arrested in my town for serially scamming businesses with the money for tow truck thing. In his case he would ask for more than a few bucks but promise to give it back as soon as he got his wallet unlocked out of his car, or something.

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Radman March 7, 2011 at 12:39 PM

That’s a good question, but the real one needs to be asked since this is your blog – what would “you” do? I’m guessing that since that was not mentioned in your post (at least I didn’t see anything of the sorts) that you are struggling with that question. I hope that spending time on the streets will help you answer that. Heaven forbid you or your family never have to experience it first hand. Like, if and when we hit a world turning event, which your “getting rid of your crap” will leave you helpless since your too minimalist lifestyle won’t allow you to survive. At least not with any comfort. You have no “what if’s” in your arsenal of goods that will help you through a bad situation except faith. Good luck and happy motoring.

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Baker March 8, 2011 at 11:48 PM

I’ll take my freedom, attitude, and network over every item in your “world turning event” kit – every day. It’s not extra “stuff” that helps us through bad situations. That’s the very misconception I’m busting. :-)

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Radman March 9, 2011 at 12:21 PM

No gas, no food or any survival gear at all? Gutsy I must say.

Best of luck in your ventures.

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Stephan March 7, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Nope, I don’t give to panhandlers. I give to local charities instead.

A father of good friend of mine had a rough life, and he found himself homeless at times. He told me that he would easily get $100/day, usually much more, so there was no “push” for him to get off the street.

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MainlineMom aka Sarah March 7, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Yeah, I do. But I live somewhere that I very very rarely see anyone panhandling. Even the people I see that are clearly homeless and living under the highway don’t do a lot of active begging. If they are near a coffee shop or food place? I’ll go in and buy them food or coffee…I’d rather do that than give them cash anyway. I’m far more likely to give to women than men too, because they are generally more vulnerable. I used to be cynical and ignore them, but reading the Bible has opened my eyes and I’ve actively chosen to dig deeper into the problems and learn a little more about some of these folks. The hundreds of verses in the Bible about helping the poor can’t be ignored in my mind, and yeah…I give time and money to charity as well…but it has more impact on me, personally, on my thinking and my character if I give to an individual. Makes it personal.

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Jaq Jaq March 7, 2011 at 1:08 PM

I live near San Francisco and the pan handlers up there are pretty clever. best sign i’ve ever seen, young kid clean cut on a corner holding a sign that says “my girl is pregnant help me buy a ring” While i laughed at his creativity.. I never give cash ever…because liquor and drugs are so often the cause of their plight I couldnt do that, but if I have expendable income after bills I’ll run to McDonald or Walmart and get $10 gift cards usually 3 and leave them in my glove box. if i see a pan handler and the spirit moves me i’ll give them the gift card (usually McDonald cuz they’re EVERYWHERE).
as for the other piece – sex doesnt mater but i do find my self moved by youths (teens early 20′s look) more then elder, Women with infants (yes i know its probably the scam -but im only giving food not cash for the habit). levels of disarray dont move me.. if you are making an effort to clean up i’ll probably give you the hand out. As for the kid trying to buy a ring.. I looped back through and gave him what he really needed.. a bag of diapers =0P

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Kayla March 7, 2011 at 1:10 PM

I very rarely give money on the street. Instead we give generously to charitable organizations that feed the local homeless and less fortunate. Our family also makes regular donations to the local food bank.

However, if a person asked for food outside a restaurant, I would give it to them.

I guess my reaction is from experience. I saw a man begging locally and I went inside a restaurant and got him a hot meal and brought it out – only to walk down the street and turn around just as he was dumping it in the trash.

I also know of situations locally where panhandlers bring home on average $60,000 a year. The places they regularly panhandle have tight security and over a year long period, they played back video for one guy where he was making over $65K just from people passing by.

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Chris March 7, 2011 at 1:12 PM

No, I never give to them, because I see the same guys standing on the same corners day after day. When I was in highschool, my girlfriend at the time made me run through McDonalds and pick up a few hamburgers. I then had to drive around the block and give them to the guy. It didn’t make me feel good or like I was helping someone. There are places for them to get help and standing on a corner holding a sign isn’t the way to do it – if they really wanted the help. Most of the time I hear of stories (on the news even) of these guys are simply making money on the corner all day then walking a mile away to their cars and then drive home. My favorite is getting approached at a gas station “I need some money for gas.” Really? Then where’s your car and I’ll put some in it…

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Chris March 7, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Now that I ponder a little more there are two other occasions where I’ve give. 1) While in school, someone got into our locked classroom building late at night with the “I have to get to OKC (an hour away from school) for my cancer treatment and have no bus fare” I gave a buck or two and when my classmates questioned me, I said it’s between him and God. 2) I was walking around a somewhere in Kansas City looking at shops while my wife was in a conference. Guy approaches with the “my kid needs diapers” pitch. I tell him I’ll buy him lunch at McD’s. We get to the restaurant and are next in line when I finally give in to his changing story and just give him a few bucks to make him go away. When I see him the next day saying the same thing to other people, he won’t even make eye contact.

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Jen March 7, 2011 at 1:21 PM

In Bangkok, Thailand, it is quite common that panhandlers are actually collecting money for a sort of handler or pimp – they are actually being used by scam artists and rarely see that money themselves. Often times a trafficker will maim a child so they get more sympathy and more money.
The whole thing is horrible – but often donating money to them only feeds the system they are trapped in. If people didn’t give, the awful business wouldn’t work.
I try to become more educated about human trafficking problems in the areas I go to so I can help avoid fueling the fire. Whether or not it’s always that situation – I don’t give money to panhandlers.

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Jan March 7, 2011 at 6:10 PM

This is typical throughout Asia in my experience

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MutantSuperModel March 7, 2011 at 1:48 PM

It depends. I am honestly pretty intimidated by the idea of giving something to someone on the street face to face but am better if I’m in the car– especially if someone’s with me. In the car, I almost give SOMETHING. Walking, hardly ever. A lady came up to me while I sat in a McDonald’s and I did. Didn’t feel right stuffing my face with fries and not giving her something. I regretted it as soon as she walked off and thought I should’ve offered her a meal instead. I have a bunch of coupons for Free oatmeal at McDonald’s and would love to give them to these people but feel so shy and silly at the idea.

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Radman March 7, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Your comments and views definitely make you a conscious and caring person.

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Paula March 7, 2011 at 2:21 PM

Handouts and free money are disempowering; they teach people begging behavior rather than instilling the skills and confidence to go out an earn money.

The best way to help others, I believe, is by carefully selecting nonprofits/charities with a mission and methods that reflect your values. There are lots of organizations that can help you find and compare different charities and decide which to support.

Give money strategically.

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Jenna March 7, 2011 at 2:22 PM

I struggle with this all the time. It totally depends on the situation: where I am, who I’m with, how accessible it is for me to help someone, etc.
1. Yes, I think it’s a lot easier for me to help out a fellow female then a male. However, I see more males beggars than females.
2. Yes, because I think young people have a better chance of finding work then older. Also, clean people tend to have access to more opportunities than dirtier people.
3. Yes, it’s easier to buy food than give money. I also have a habit of giving away my doggie bag food if I see someone while walking home.
4. Yes, and sometimes Starbucks gives away free coffee if you are already buying one.
5. Haha, I got in big trouble with this one the first time I went to SE Asia when I was 14, I kept handing out change and had this crowd of kids. It really bugged my dad.
6. Honestly haven’t seen a family begging before (in the US).

I always make eye contact with the person, even when I can’t help them. I think the biggest problem with the homeless is that they don’t feel seen. By giving eye contact and clearly stating “Sorry, I can’t help you” or “sure, let’s go grab lunch.” You are acknowledging them. I also pray for any homeless people I see on the street. When going to and from work it’s almost a constant stream.

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Mallory March 7, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Definitely a good question and one I often struggle with. I sometimes will give food to the panhandlers I often see, especially if they’re standing at the grocery store or by a restaurant. I don’t generally give money, but it has happened.

Most importantly, though, I try to treat them like humans by smiling or saying hello. So often we feel uncomfortable with our own reaction to the homeless so we look away or try to avoid them. We need to remember that they are people and we don’t know their life story, so we shouldn’t judge.

I’ve gone through poverty training and heard a lot of stories from individuals struggling to meet their basic needs. The most striking thing I’ve learned is that we are all just a couple of bad turns away from being in their shoes. If we didn’t have a supportive family, lost our jobs, got in a car accident and got evicted we may very well end up on a corner needing help.

So next time you pass a panhandler, smile and give thanks for your many fortunes.

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Sean March 7, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Hmmmm….very thought provoking.

My general rule is to give a hand up and not a hand out. I’ve lived in El Salvador for a while and I came across the panhandling situation almost daily. Generally they asked for money because they were hungry. So, like many people have already mentioned, I took them out to eat. Especially the ones who were so drunk they could hardly stand. Food, no problem. Money for more alcohol, no way!

It’s very much the same in San Francisco and Santa Monica. Both cities have a large “homeless” population and it’s hard not to have to deal with the situation. I have no reservations about taking someone out to eat but it’s hard to just give them a cash hand out. I’ve seen it abused too many times.

Like the time I saw a lady holding a “Help: Pregnant Mom” adjust the pillow under her shirt and secretly puff on a cigarette.

There are many things we can give instead of money. Somebody above mentioned gift cards. Who doesn’t have a million Starbucks cards lying around? I do and I don’t even drink coffee!

I have no problem however giving cash to street performers. I’m more than happy to give to someone who is willing to share a talent. I even plan for it if I’m going downtown.

The big thing to remember is that everyone has a story. Everyone needs help at some point. We should not judge (though very hard not to sometimes).

With everything I’ve said, it really is on us to give and give and give some more. As Chris mentioned above, it boils down the panhandlers’ own conscience and relationship with God.

Whew! This one is a DOOZY of a question!

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Tristan March 7, 2011 at 3:01 PM

I’m living in Germany and there is hardly anyone here who is forced to live in the streets permanently due to poverty or something. That’s why I never ever give money directly to panhandlers.
Even if it sounds cruel but I only see two reasons why someone could be homeless here: a personal decision (hey, I won’t pay anyone’s fun) or addiction (I also refuse paying for drugs, because there are addicts in my own family and I know that supporting their addiction by giving money always keeps the basic problem up).

I don’t say that we don’t have poverty here. That wouldn’t be the truth. But, local authorities grant each legal citizen enough money to satisfy basic human needs plus a little extra and pay for a small flat if someone’s unemployed. Any panhandler could easily acquire a small flat by making use of his legal rights.

On the other hand I am permanently supporting some small charity organizations who directly work in Africa and whose members I know and trust. I provide free webspace, developed and maintain their websites for free and also provide a helping hand at certain projects and events. You may call me selfish but I think that’s enough.

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Andi March 7, 2011 at 3:05 PM

I seldom carry cash, so I don’t typically have any to give. That being said, I always have granola bars & snack packs in my car because any good mommy keeps yum-yums ready for her hungry babies to snarf. Whenever I am stopped for traffic & see a panhandler, I give food. Most of the time the recipient is grateful. During summer months I keep watered bottle in my car particularly for this purpose. Additionally, my husband & I have taken in an abused teen from a rough background, & she will be graduating this year with plans to move on to college. And of course, we donate goods & dollars to charities in which we strongly believe. We do what we can, & feel badly that it can just never be enough.

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Tia March 7, 2011 at 3:10 PM

I don’t usually give actual cash, not because I don’t want to, but because I just don’t have the money to give. I’ve never had much money to speak of, I’m a bit of a hobo & couchsurfer (technically homeless), living off odd jobs and the generosity of friends & family. I feel very lucky that I haven’t actually had to live on the streets, but the concept is very real to me and I feel for those who are in more need than myself.

So I try to give in other ways: volunteering my time; donating my own possessions to organizations who provide them freely to the needy; sit and talk with those who are alone and lonely; when I get a free coffee coupon, for example, I’ll splurge and buy one for myself, and use the coupon for someone who would appreciate it; on the rare times I might get treated to a dinner at a restaurant, I’ll separate my dish in half, take it to go, and ask around if someone would like my clean leftovers (someone always does).

The only times I do give my small change, when I have some, is to those who actually entertain me, who are working for it. The guitar player in the park playing a beautiful tune, the African drummer who’s always on that one corner. In a lot of countries, busking is a valid occupation, and I’ll participate when I can.

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Elizabeth March 7, 2011 at 3:11 PM

I do not give to panhandlers. I do give to charities every month, and some of those in turn help those in my local community get back on their feet. I’ve been told by folks involved in charities that help the homeless that there usually is enough aid provided by the charities to help those in need. However, many homeless are not taking advantage of the aid because of undiagnosed mental illnesses, drug use or other reasons that keep them from making the major life changes that living in a home brings.

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CC March 7, 2011 at 3:13 PM

can count on one hand how often I’ve given away money – but when it comes to food or buying someone a burger, burrito or cup of coffee — I can’t even begin to count as that’s where I’m drawn to give. I, too, see the same people on the same corners and think about drugs & alcohol as being the fuel for the dollars. There is a homeless woman (she and her dog) who do not panhandle but when I see her, I always make a point of giving her money and have carried dog treats for her pup — maybe it’s because she doesn’t beg or because of a conversation we had that she couldn’t keep her dog with her if she went to a shelter, but the shelter will let her take a shower & clean up with her dog along side. I understand her love and caring for her companion.

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Cindy March 7, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Adam,

My son taught me a very important lesson when he was a teenager (he’s 32 now). We were in Chicago and he was heartbroken every time he saw a homeless person. He decided that he would give something to every homeless person he saw. When we talked about it, I said “what if that person just uses your money to buy drugs or alcohol?”

His response: “If I help ten people and one person uses that small bit of help to buy drugs or alcohol, there are still nine people who didn’t and whose lives may be a little bit better.”

Every person deserves to be treated with dignity. A smile, a dollar (or more if possible), and kind words are easy to dispense and the “return on investment” is invaluable.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this subject.

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jody wissing March 7, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Here’s one case where I gave a fast food gift card, as I had planned ahead. http://www.trashsociety.com/2010/07/08/the-challenge-day-42-homeless/

Here’s a time when I drove 10 miles back to where I had seen a homeless guy so I could buy him lunch. http://embracechaos.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/21-days-until-christmas/

I prefer not to give cash, but there are sometimes when that is okay. I’ve done missions work locally and in Mexico. I have to admit, I like to help people that help themselves. I don’t want to just throw money at the homeless problem, I like to talk to these people, get to know them, know their stories, then I can help with more than just a meal.

Also, if I give cash to 5 people, 4 use it to buy drugs and one person uses it for food, I’ve still helped one person that needed to eat. It’s hard for me to think like that, but I believe it’s what I’m called to do. I have no business judging anyone, as I could just as easily be judged.

One last thing, the book “Under the Overpass” has a lot of great info inside the lives of the homeless, impoverished and the people who help and hurt them.

Thanks for posting on this topic. :)

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ThePoorParalegal March 7, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I don’t give money to panhandlers, however, I do sometimes give food. One time a friend and I were leaving the cheesecake factory and we had a “leftovers box’ of our sandwiches and salad. We saw a poor homeless man on the street outside the restaurant and we just gave him our food. It’s better than letting food sit in your fridge and go bad, and most likely be thrown away in a week on trash day!

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April March 7, 2011 at 4:16 PM

I will buy food if I am, for example, headed into McDonalds and somebody says they are hungry. There is a great dollar menu. I’ll usually grab a couple of burgers and a water for them. Anything else, absolutely not. No money ever…to anybody. I don’t know what it is being used on and it makes me sick to think they would use it no drugs / cigarettes / booze. Having a child with them makes no difference to me.

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Lee Miller March 7, 2011 at 4:40 PM

When I see an older person who looks to need help I help. I just saw an old man on the corner with a cup in his palsy trembling hands. Boom… ten bucks in his cup and I had to stop my truck get out and walk back to where he was.

I see people at the on ramps with a back pack and travel gear, it’s zero bucks. They are living a lifestyle of travel and no responsibility and I don’t feel obligated. I smile at them and their freedom and drive on.

Let us not harden our hearts to those who are truly in need. Lee

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Karen (Scotland) March 7, 2011 at 4:43 PM

Nope, no way and never do I give money to beggars. Age, sex, state of clothing etc – not relevant – I still don’t give cash to someone doing nothing with their hand out. (Street performers and buskers – I do give them cash – they’re working for it and I enjoy music on the high street.)

I have never in my life seen someone begging with a child. If I did and it was during school time, I would probably call the police or local authority. I phone the local ticky-man (truanting officer) if I see any kid out of school. A child begging would be a serious issue way beyond what a pound coin from me could ever help with.

Third world country. Not sure. Would have to take guidance from travel info for that country.

Walking into a food/coffee shop. Hmm. Not sure. The few times I’ve offered, the food has been turned down. I then feel embarrassed that they know I’m judging them by refusing to give them cash for non-food. (Hate that I feel embarrassed – I earned the money and don’t drink or smoke or spend beyond my means so I think I can resent giving it to someone else for them to get booze!)

I used to live in inner-city Glasgow and would see all the beggars outside my flat. Two hours later, same beggars, stoned or drunk. No point giving them cash.

It makes more sense to give money to sensible local organisations that provide services for homeless than to give money ad hoc for that immediate “feel good factor” of seeing the person’s face. I’d rather money went into shelters and charities that are way more knowledgeable than me about how to improve things long term.

I have to point out that in Britain, health care is free, education is free and there are so many benefits available to unemployed/low income that becoming truly homeless IS sometimes a choice. (But, yes, my heart goes out to the young, the uneducated, the mentally ill and the just plain lacking in smarts homeless – but a pound from me makes no long term difference.)

I feel harsh having typed all that but no point me sugar-coating my opinion or trying to pretend I am “nicer” than I actually am.
Karen (Scotland)

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Heidi Howes March 7, 2011 at 4:53 PM

I almost always give, whenever I can. I have needed help in desperate times and who knows what the story is behind the person asking for help. We need more compassionate people to stretch out their hearts and give.

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Dianne March 7, 2011 at 4:59 PM

This is a tough one. I live in Sydney, Australia but not in the city so I don’ see so many beggars around here on a daily basis. I do give monthly (direct debit) to a charity which helps the homeless cause I figure you never know someones circumstances and life is hard. We do get quite a few buskers around here and I often give to them. They are ‘earning’ their money I figure. I know that is not really logical and is probably discriminating against those with no musical ability! I would hate to think anyone had a child with them. Don’t you have laws against that sort of exploitation? That would not be tolerated here.

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Karen (Scotland) March 8, 2011 at 3:37 AM

That’s what I wondered – about the children begging. I can imagine it in third world countries where, let’s face it, begging is probably one of the less unpleasant lives facing a lot of poor kids but in America? Sad and shocking.
Karen (Scotland)

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mike crosby March 7, 2011 at 5:03 PM

i don’t give. When I die my millions will go somewhere. So why not keep it all now. Do you think if you asked beggars, they’d give you money? I think they’d kill you for $100 if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.

And if you have any debt what so ever, you’re better off donating to yourself. If debt free, then donate and go to Vegas. Not till then.

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Red June 2, 2011 at 10:11 AM

Once a bum asked my friend for a quarter outside a 7-11, My friend replied, “Aw, man I was about to ask you the same thing” The bum gave him a quarter… My thought process at the time was that he really didn’t need it and must have been someone doing this as a side job… but ultimately i’m unsure.

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Andrei D July 24, 2011 at 3:58 AM

I read your comment and I would like to voice my disagreement with your logic. I hope that you will at least take time to consider mine. Yes, your money will go somewhere; either the state or your lawyers will take it. It will probably not help anyone and you would have left absolutely no legacy behind. You wont make a difference to the world because you chose to sit in your complacency and let other suffer. While you let your gluttony consume you, others are starving to death or shivering in a box behind a dumpster in the winter. I don’t know you or what your beliefs are, but I can assume that like many others, you are religious and you know that the bible has numerous verses about helping your fellow man and to not allow others to suffer. There are many beggars that are scamming people and taking advantage of hospitality, but that does not mean that we should let innocent, unprivileged ones live in agony and despair. If they would kill you as you would say, it is so that they could eat, so that they have some means of surviving and not to feel like a worthless, empty creature continuously at the mercy of others. You don’t know their situations or disabilities, many of them are not mentally capable of adapting to our fast-paced world or physically capable of working. Many of them are veterans who fought and sacrificed so that others may have a better life. They sacrificed their own lives not for greedy intentions, but because they valued others, and now they have been abandoned. So do not just say that they wouldn’t do the same if you asked for money. You never know what they have gone through and what hardships they have been plagued by. There are millions of people who fought for a better world, for a better country, and you are living the way you are due to their sacrifices. You would not be the person you are today without a teacher, a parent, or someone who sacrificed something to make a difference in your life. So before you say that you’d be better off gambling your money away, think of how someone could have gambled their money away instead of helping you. Help others as you have also been helped, supported, blessed in your life. Do not sit idly by while others are in torture and you feast. Make a difference

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james March 7, 2011 at 5:18 PM

I used to give money to panhandlers, but then I canvassed for a while (fundraising for children’s international on the streets of seattle). The first time I gave to this one in particular, my partner for the day pulled me aside and asked me not to do that anymore… the woman I’d just given to was a heroin junkie, and that’s all she ever spent the money on. (in hindsight, she definitely looked the part).

I’m a big fan of local community outreach, like ‘real change’ and other groups like that. When I give now, I like to give there instead. I’m not going to begrudge a homeless man his misuse of my two bucks, but why not make sure the money’s going to actually help make a difference?

One of these days, I’d like to invite a panhandler to have lunch. Hear some stories, share some stories… I’ve only done that once before, and it was really surprising just how much Aaron (never saw him again) appreciated having someone to genuinely talk with.

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Kaye March 7, 2011 at 5:26 PM

My opinions of this have changed through the years. Right now this is where I am:

Note that the only panhandlers I see on a semi-regular basis are the exit-ramp variety right off the interstate. I rarely have cash. If I do, even if it is change, I give it to them. When I am debt free, I plan to carry a handful of $5 McDonald’s gift cards with me at all times to hand out instead.

I do give to organizations (both with money and with items donated) that help people who are less fortunate than I am. However, I recently have had a change of heart about panhandlers.

Recently I have decided that as a Christian I am asked to give. I’m not asked to judge or question. I have no idea what these people’s stories are. I don’t know what got them to this point. I don’t know that in my giving it should really matter. My obedience is based on whether I give. They can deal with their obedience based on what they do with the money. Not my call. I just want to do my part without judging them on theirs.

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Courtney Carver | Be More With Less March 7, 2011 at 5:48 PM

Yes, I give without judgement when I can. (If someone asks, and I have the cash…)

Does it matter if they are male or female? No
Does it matter young or old… healthy-looking or scraggly and weak? No
What if they ask for food outside a restaurant or fast food chain? I’ll buy them lunch.
What if they asked for a cup of coffee as you walked into Starbucks (yesterday)? I’ll buy them coffee.

My contribution on the side of the road is not going to change their life, but it might brighten their day.

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Amanda March 7, 2011 at 6:18 PM

This is something I’ve struggled with since I moved to LA. At this point, I choose to donate my time and money to charities rather than give to folks on the street (unless, like someone said earlier, they’re busking- then I’ll give a few bucks). Since I walk or take public transportation, I’ve had to deal with some very aggressive and/or unwell panhandlers who have actually made me feel threatened- one man followed me for 1/2+ mile offering unsolicited comments on my physique and asking creepy questions and another man (after I gave him some change) jumped up, hugged me, and started yelling at the top of his lungs about the Lakers and pudding.

I’m never rude- I always try to smile and nod- but I’m not going to put myself in a position where I have a stranger following or grabbing me again.

(My one exception is if the person has an animal with them- if they’ve got a dog, cat, parrot, whatever, I will unfailingly give them money.)

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Melissa March 7, 2011 at 6:20 PM

I live in Las Vegas, NV. Panhandlers are frequent. There are a lot of disabled vets, there are more and more young people panhandling.

I used to give quite frequently to panhandlers, until I kept seeing the same people, playing the same trick. The most common one is, “We don’t have change for gas to get home.” Or, “My car broke down and I’m trying to get bus money.” I usually gave these people the benefit of the doubt, until I was asked on numerous occassions by the SAME people, using the SAME line!

I also don’t like seeing a very young person, with designer shoes and jeans asking for money to feed their kids. There are priorities in life! I don’t care if you just lost your job or are hurting for money-everyone seems to be anymore. Feed your kids first and foremost.

I also get the, “My wife/girlfriend is pregnant”, alot. I’ve given people my drinks and bottles of gatorades(especially when it’s 110 degrees outside!), and I’ve offered to give them food, but I’ve usually been turned down on the food offer.

Reading through the comments, I do realize I am judgemental. However, I help in other ways when I can. When it was acceptable, I donated food to shelters and now it’s money or my time.

Once in awhile, I will still give some change to panhandlers. I’ve always been the person that a security guard catches and they reprimand me for doing so! :)

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Jan March 7, 2011 at 6:21 PM

I do not give to people asking for money. I have gotten into the habit of buying fresh food for the shelter and helped to start the back pack program at my school instead. There is a caveat though- I live in a small town and rarely run into someone who is begging for money.
When visiting the big city I do give to street musicians- I don’t see that as begging.

A friend from high school has worked on “skid row” for the last 30 years. Another is a warden at a prison. They both told me NEVER to give cash- even to children. Children can be abused into panhandling.
I am not as sure their advice is as good today as it was in the past. With the stats that 25% of children in the US are now under the poverty level…there has to be something more to do. I just don’t know how to do it.

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DeeDee March 7, 2011 at 6:43 PM

There are too many near my apartment for me to give to everyone. I give on occasion and on every holiday. Sometimes food instead of just money. But I never give to anyone who is smoking a cigarette.

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islandmomma March 7, 2011 at 6:44 PM

Complex question, as many have noted. To me, each individual one is a judgement call, so basically the answer is if I have the money and they spark my sympathy. Almost always to older or disabled people, generally I think they have no other recourse. Almost always to buskers because they are at least doing something to earn a crust, and often they are talented too, that also goes for the guys who clean your windscreen at the traffic lights in the city, or who sell newspapers there. Almost never to children so as not to encourage them to spend the rest of their life that way, and because they are often used by pimps and hand the money over at the end of the day. Where I used to work there was an organized group who worked the area, I would see them every morning, dividing up the territory and overheard their conversations when they spoke in Spanish (which they didn’t always do). One day a colleague, feeling guilty about the size of the takeaway lunch he was bringing back to the office, offered half of it to one of this group. He was met with disdain and foul language. It was made quite clear that food wasn’t wanted, but cash was. The group included an old woman and a pregnant young woman, so they made me skeptical. I try to use my gut instinct now, but would err on the side of giving – this recession has made me realize that you just never know what’s around the corner.

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Cindy March 7, 2011 at 6:46 PM

There are many organizations that help homeless individuals, but those organizations are finding it more difficult to meet the need.
Synergy Services in Kansas City has a beautiful program called One Homeless Night, which occurs every year in November. We ask young people to simulate one night of homelessness and to get sponsors (similar to charity walks). On any given night in the Kansas City metropolitan area, there are 2,000 young people without a place to sleep. Last year, we had a storm during the event, but we still had young people who maintained their commitment and stuck it out. Most homeless people don’t have the option of not “sticking it out.”
Community Action agencies also provide services to homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. The proposed federal budget cuts will dramatically decrease the funds available to serve the milliions of Americans living in poverty.
Who will pick up the slack?
How much is enough for any of us?
Do I really need ten pairs of shoes? Does anyone?
Oh, my.

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Keri March 7, 2011 at 7:23 PM

when I lived in New Zealand I gave to buskers, especially if they were brave enough to be infront of a crowd doing something they enjoy doing. Living in Australia I give to Buskers also, as for beggers I have said to one that asked me, if you were sitting there playing a guitar I would not mind giving you a little more change, but I still gave him a dollar.
I myself enjoy busking and have done it a few times not for money but to see how another human being reacts to said busker.
It is interesting to see that the less well off people are the more they tend to give to buskers.
I guess birds of a feather do flock together even in human nature senses.

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Brigitte March 7, 2011 at 7:30 PM

After commenting earlier, I was curious what others had to say. I’m so glad I’ve come back, because a lot of the comments are so very thought-provoking.

One thing that has struck me is how many people object to panhandlers using “lines.” But I wonder what you’d prefer them to do. As an example, it may not be true that a panhandler needs bus money to get out of town. But maybe something like the following is the truth, or part of it:

my mom locked me in a closet and beat me.
my uncle sexually abused me for years.
i ran away from my abusive husband.
i never had the money to pay for the psychiatric medicine i need.
i had a developmental disability and no safety net.

Or countless other reasons.

I believe that if we can afford to give, we are called to do so — not by god but by our common humanity. The method is up to each individual, but it’s not our place to demand the life story of a person in need.

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Joshua Carmody March 7, 2011 at 8:07 PM

You’re absolutely right. We don’t need to demanding a life story from a panhandler, and they shouldn’t have to give one. But then why do they feel compelled to provide one? Or lie about what they’re going to do with the money?

I would prefer “I’m hungry and can’t afford to buy anything, can you help me?” or “I’m down on my luck and need money for essentials” to a made up story. I can see your point about why some might feel compelled to provide one. But reading the comments so far it seems a common patterns is that people are afraid that money that they give will be abused, perhaps on liquor/drugs or other vices, or that the person is just “sponging” off of society. Regardless of whether or not the people in question actually do these things, I think people would give to them more often if they believed the asker was sincere in their intended use of the money.

In summary: It’s not why they came to be in their situation that’s important, it’s what they’re going to do with the help they receive that mosts concerns people. Honesty about that is important, I think.

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Jeff March 7, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Rarely…. I’ve given to a woman and child and a few here and there but i’ve found that most homeless and truly in need dont beg… I’ve known a few cons that have it down… their story is heart breaking and they take all they can… I’ve even offered several beggars jobs and EVERY time they ask “How much you pay?”… Really??? I guess beggars CAN be choosers…

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Jeff March 7, 2011 at 9:27 PM

I have and WILL buy somebody food any day of the week however…

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Kevin March 7, 2011 at 9:36 PM

I don’t give a penny to panhandlers, not ever. It doesn’t matter whether they’re young or old, male or female, or whatever. I believe that the vast majority of homeless panhandlers are drug addicts. Any money you give them will go to buying drugs, which in turn supports organized crime who cultivate drugs in order to finance their criminal (and, dare I say – terrorist?) operations.

They don’t need money for food. There are free soup kitchens everywhere, serving food far healthier than anything they can buy at Chik-fil-A with your gift card. Giving them a fast-food gift card isn’t helping them (unless you’re trying to clog their arteries).

Homeless drug addicts are a net loss for society, a cancer on our resources, an unecessary and senseless drain on our tax revenues and police and paramedic services. They contribute nothing. But they’ll take every last inch we’re willing to give them, then hold out their hand and ask for more.

If every homeless drug addict in North America magically disappeared today, and our cities were instantly cleansed of their worthless, dirty plague, society as a whole would be unquestionably improved overall. Petty crime/theft, vandalism, harassment, intimidation, public intoxication, drug use and trafficking, assault, vagrancy, public urination, littering, and so many more crimes would all dramatically and immediately decrease.

These people don’t care about anyone but themselves. They’ll do and take whatever they have to in order to get their next high, and they’ll leave their diseased needles wherever they fall, without a care in the world about the fate of whatever poor innocent child might stumble upon the toxic artifacts of their degenerate lifesyles. They have no ambition, no motivation, and no desire to change. They’re content to simply live off the scraps our government forces us to throw their way, while working on obtaining their next high.

If Natural Selection were allowed to run its course, this problem would solve itself fairly quickly. But a bleeding-heart liberal ideology insists on sheltering people from the consequences of their own choices, and instead they carry out their self-destruction in super-slow-motion. In a micro context, that’s called “enabling,” but in the macro scope, politics become a factor and it’s allowed to flourish.

The only scenario that elicits any sympathy from me is when they have a dog with them. I feel empathy for the dog. He’s malnourished, isn’t getting proper exercise, has no shelter from the elements, and doesn’t even understand WHY he’s suffering. Humans, on the other hand, are simply living out the consequences of their own choices. But the dogs deserve better than that.

Show me a charity that rescues dogs from homeless people, and I’ll donate to that in a heartbeat.

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Jean March 17, 2011 at 2:09 PM

You are a hard-hearted man. Have you not read any of these comments? Not everyone’s situation is the same. Sure, some of them are drug addicts or professional panhandlers, but some aren’t and are truly in need. Until you’ve walked in their shoes, you shouldn’t judge. I hope you never find yourself down on your luck and needing assistance. Keep living in your ivory tower – thank God there are people in this world that have compassion.

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Kenny Rose March 7, 2011 at 9:41 PM

You know I will be honest. I give the majority of times. I just look at it one way. That could be me. I grew up a poor area. I know what it feels like to be looked down on. I never forget nine of us sharing 3 tins of beans and two loafs of bread. It was hard but everyone around us had nothing. I am in different position now but I am still struggling financially in a tough economy. That said. A lot of these people are in that position for a variety of reasons in a lot of cases they have no real control over. As long as I have food and shelter, a loving family, my health and the opportunity to make tomorrow different. I will share what I have with anybody. Obviously you cannot give to everybody and you need to be careful because there are professionals who do it for a living and are just out for what they can get but it really is a tough world. Keep up the good work Baker.

All the best

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liz March 7, 2011 at 10:34 PM

“Today, talking about the poor is in fashion. Knowing, loving, and serving the poor is quite another matter.” —Mother Teresa

I think Mother Teresa is right on with this. Getting up close and personal with people on the street is scary. But to look someone in the eye, to smile and acknowledge that they too are a human being and not a piece of trash, is a profound gift. All of us can do that, whether or not your principles say to give handouts.

This is hard, and I fully admit I am bad at it. Sometimes I resort to giving food or money when I don’t have the emotional energy to have a conversation. Which sounds weird, or perhaps hopelessly idealist, but I think it’s important.

Certainly money needs to be given to missions and non-profits, who advocate and get infrastructure in place and are on the ground. But if you, yourself, have time to volunteer someplace and build a relationship, to really get to know, and love, and serve someone personally, that is a far more powerful gift than your cash.

I also like how Barbara Enrenreich (“Nickle and Dimed” author) puts it:
“Although I’m atheist, I defer to Jesus on beggar-related matters. He said, if a man asks for your coat, give him your cloak too…Jesus did not say: First, administer a breathalyzer test to the supplicant, or, first, sit him down for a pep talk on “focus” and “goal-setting.” He said: Give him the damn coat.” (source: http://bit.ly/hjUNTW)

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Kat Fulton March 7, 2011 at 10:43 PM

I give them food and clothes instead of money. I never give them money.

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Wong Mun Keong March 7, 2011 at 11:10 PM

Personally, i’ve taken them to the nearest grocery or 7-11 shop and bought them milk + bread and other food stuff (no junk food, alcohol or ciggies).

Although i do donate cash to orphanages, UNICEF & WWF, i’m against giving cash to panhandlers as some may get into more trouble like alcohol and others substance abuse. Food & nutrition on the other hand is for survival and maintenance until they can find it in themselves to get up from their current situation.

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Carol March 7, 2011 at 11:48 PM

I do give to panhandlers. Not every single time, but often. It doesn’t usually matter how old they are, what gender, what they look like, etc. It does matter how confident I’m feeling about my own finances and how much money I have, sometimes whether I feel safe stopping and going into my purse. I would certainly buy food or coffee too. In my opinion it’s none of my business what the person does with the money. Often, if someone feels they are in a position to ask others for money, I’m inclined to give it and I do. As a gift, it has no strings attached.

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Kimberly Caron-Lohman March 7, 2011 at 11:58 PM

Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. I just do what I feel led to do. It doesn’t matter if the person is young or old, male or female, etc….. Sometimes I will give change, sometimes I will buy them something. A lady outside the grocery store one day asked if we could buy her some chicken and stuffing. We bought chicken, stuff to make spaghetti and a whole bunch of other meals. And no, we didn’t forget the stuffing. Another time a guy asked my husband for a buck or two for gas and he filled his tank. I’ve bought fast food meals for people. Once I “guilted” Subway to stay open late because there was a homeless couple outside who were hungry and I wanted a sandwich made for them. I paid for one person and another woman in line came forward to pay for another. It was pretty cool. Anyway, I will give if I feel led, which is often enough. I don’t worry too much about whether they will spend the money on booze or cigarettes, I don’t feel it’s my problem. If I feel led to give, I give and let it go. I once was asked by a teenaged kid outside of a 7-11 store for money for bread. Yeah, right I thought to myself…. so I gave him a handful of change. He looked at what he had in his hand already and mentally added up what I’d given him and smiled. He walked inside the store. I waited in my car just to see what would happen and sure enough, he left with nothing but that loaf of bread and it brought tears to my eyes. So yeah, I will give…. no strings attached, no worries about where it goes as it isn’t my problem after the money leaves my hands.

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Mary March 8, 2011 at 12:30 AM

Here’s what I do…You can buy pre-made tuna salad and cracker kits from the grocery store for about a dollar a pop. I always stock about ten in my car, at any given time. When I see someone with a sign, I hand one to them. It’s lunch…it’s easy, doesn’t need refrigeration or a can opener and even comes with a little fork. It’s not much, but at least it lets them know someone cares…maybe that will ripple into something bigger and more positive for them in the future.

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cassarooni March 8, 2011 at 4:06 PM

Great idea! And I love the granola bar idea, too. Question is whether it will actually be eaten or tossed a’la the “how much do you pay?” response when asked if one will work for money.

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Matt March 8, 2011 at 12:39 AM

Typically I try to give away extra food, water, or I’ll offer to buy food. I usually do not give money. Thanks for the post!

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Jarrett Coggin March 8, 2011 at 2:52 AM

I live outside of Salt Lake City and I’ve offered to buy food for some panhandlers and all but one turned me down. They’ve always asked me for change or a couple of dollars and I’ve even seen some of them who run “rings” in parking lots for malls or parks.

I’ve helped them by volunteering time and food by doing food nights with my parents, but I very rarely ever give them cash.

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Karen (Scotland) March 8, 2011 at 3:53 AM

I commented last night before I went to bed and I’ve slept so badly all night. My mind just kept going over all the comments I’d read and thinking about what I do and what others do.
I still think I’m right. Giving money to someone so they can get drunk or stoned – never gonna happen. I can’t do it. I would actually feel guilty as an “enabler”.

However, setting up a direct debit for a local homeless-oriented charity? That is something I can and should do. Although Kevin above was very, very harsh, I understand the sentiment behind his comments on addicts. However, some people, through lack of supportive (or even just clued up) family or community, just CAN’T dig themselves out – mental health problems that they haven’t managed to control, extremely low intelligence, a non-existent upbringing.
If I set up a direct debit, I’m doing something. No, I’m not giving up my time, chatting to them or actually rolling up my sleeves, but I’m sure organisations still appreciate regular income.
Karen (Scotland)

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Steph March 8, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Karen, as someone who has been on the street (albeit many years ago), it is a good thing to donate to these charitys. Several of them have helped me throughout my younger days. If they did not have the generous donations to keep food in their pantry and clothes in their closet, I would have been much worse off.
However, what got me off my behind, into school, working and out of the mess of a life I had was someone who truly believed in me. A little one on one contact from someone who did not judge me for the choices (or mistakes) I had made.

I found your above comment particularly interesting because I read the comments yesterday and they stuck with me through the night. This blog post has motivated me to become a little more creative with my giving. Truth is though, it takes all kinds of people to make this world a better place.

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Lucille March 8, 2011 at 6:29 AM

I’m challenged by this. In the developed world I usually give a little (after looking into their eyes) but what I see they are most in need of is spiritual comfort – a smile can lighten their load.
I believe they are seeking connection and love. They have been rejected by society and their families. They do have welfare support but their souls are starving.
In developing countries the problem is acute since there is no welfare system at all. These are people who live on the breadline but they have spiritual support from extended families.
However, they’re always looking for money and I find it hard to not give.

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David Cain March 8, 2011 at 8:48 AM

Once in a while I give change, but I usually feel guilty about it. I wonder what my real motives are, and to be honest I don’t know if it really helps their situation. What am I buying for this person? What am I encouraging? Sometimes I feel like I’m being arrogant by bending over and dropping some change into a cup.

If somebody asked me for a coffee or some food I would gladly do it, because I know exactly what I’m providing.

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Karen V March 8, 2011 at 10:33 AM

I keep dollar bills in my car and give one to anyone standing on the street with sign that they are homeless or out of work or who has hand out in need. When I travelled to Paris I set aside five Euros a day and gave them out to the first five people with same criteria. I look the person in the eye and with authentic kindness bless them. I believe that as long as I have more than I need I will continue to do this. I don’t care about their sex or appearance or location. I don’t feel it is my concern what they do with the money, they are on their journey not mine. I hope the attempt at authentic engagement may feed their soul even more than the dollar or Euro serves their body. I don’t judge. I give with open heart.

I worked in DC for three years. There was a woman who “begged” in front or near the Starbucks I went to. I always had a dollar in my pocket for her. She would get shooed away and ignored etc. But we could count on each other. One day when I gave her the dollar she was all excited saying she now had $16 to buy her mother a necklace for her birthday. I was so pleased to see her joy. A few months later she was really excited and said she had a job! She had gotten a part-time job at a homeless shelter. After that didn’t see her very often, a good thing although I always looked for her.

So one never knows. I’ll just keep on giving within my own little boundaries and with loving kindness as best I can.

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Zachary Zorbas March 8, 2011 at 10:42 AM

DO NOT just give them money. That is a big mistake. If you just hand a person on the street money you could be enabling their bad behavior

If you want to help them you should offer to get them a sandwich or something that will help their health and well being.

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Mark Simon March 8, 2011 at 12:48 PM

I never use to give money out and my wife always did. I have changed my ways by adopting this philosophy:

Your test is whether you give; their test is what they do with what you give.

If you are blessed enough to be able to give, you should. Never judge because you do not know the whole story.

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Brooke Farmer March 8, 2011 at 12:49 PM

I live in Los Angeles; in the thick of it. If I were to stop every time I saw someone in need and give them money I could easily go broke (although, actually, since I don’t have a job or any income at the moment, I am quickly going broke anyway). However, what I do instead is I make a point of buying a hot meal for at least one of them each month. I have tried to get other people on board with the idea. If you check out my site and click the label “Heal With a Meal” you can read more about it. I make a point of shaking the person’s hand and introducing myself. Trying to put them on a more even playing field in a way.

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Adam King March 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

I give. Whether it’s food, money, a cup of coffee, or I offer to buy a sandwich. You see, I was there once myself. I was the guy on the other end of the spectrum, broke, homeless, and scared. Because of that, I do give, but always with the intent of getting to know them during the exchange.

I tell them my story, listen to theirs and we share our experiences over sandwiches on the curb.

It opens them up to the humanity that exists regardless of how many people pass them by, and it gives me a chance to show them that the way out is simply an act of changing the mind.

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Micah March 8, 2011 at 5:15 PM

good for you. I like how you get to know them. They really need your love and hope.

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Baker March 8, 2011 at 11:55 PM

This is very close to my friend, Josh’s, approach. :-)

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cassarooni March 8, 2011 at 1:18 PM

I generally don’t give to panhandlers, and sometimes I even challenge them. There was one in my neighborhood once who I’d see several days/week at different times carrying around an empty gas can asking for gas money so he can get on his way to some vague destination. The third time I saw him was the second time he approached me and I said he needed to go away and never be seen again. Normally, I’m quite sympathetic. But for the grace of God, there go I. Fundamentally, I know two things: if I don’t take care of my own “house” first, I will be in the same predicament. And if I give to a social service entity, the dollar(s) will go a lot further.

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amanda March 8, 2011 at 2:58 PM

I don’t donate to individuals–only relief organizations.

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CC March 8, 2011 at 3:11 PM

There was an interesting study done with some of the most effective ways to help get people off the streets and back into society of some sort – here’s a link to an overview from today’s Gimundo web site — http://gimundo.com/news/article/researchers-discover-most-effective-way-to-help-homeless-get-off-streets/

it points out to me that this is more of the biblical parable of teaching a man to fish vs. giving him fish … maybe that’s where some of our resistance comes from (does giving them a granola bar, a hamburger or a buck really help more than the immediate need?).

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Susan F March 8, 2011 at 3:33 PM

Here is what I do. When asked on the street, I say sorry that I cannot spare the change, and usually I can’t, I rarely carry cash with me. But at or around Christmas time, there is usually quite a few homeless people that hold the door for those who come out of the subway. I will ask one of them if they would like a coffee and if they say yes, then I take them into the coffee shop and buy them a large coffee (usually with loads of sugar and cream) and a muffin. I would much rather give food. I also get the chance to talk to the person I am giving the coffee to and most of the time they are quite grateful for the thought. I have been doing this for the past 18 years.

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Susan March 8, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t. First, I’ve got to have the money in my pocket because I won’t open my backpack and wallet. I live in the Chicago area and it is always possible that I would be “robbed” and lose my credit card and all of my cash. I would be more inclined to give to someone who has a child with them, but otherwise age and sex and appearance don’t matter much. If the individual seems “earnest and polite” then I am more likely to give. In Chicago, there are a number of social services for those who are struggling including the opportunity to sell Streetwise. But there are plenty of people who have mental illnesses and Streetwise is not an option. If the individual is yelling or acting strangely and I feel like I might be in danger, I get as far away as I can. So sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. If the weather is brutally cold, I am more likely to help out.

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cassarooni March 8, 2011 at 4:02 PM

I knew a homeless man once when I lived in Iowa City. He never begged. He said it was beneath him. The “honest man’s way” of feeding himself, he said, was to clean up the roadsides and such, collecting returnables and using the money from that to eat and whatnot. I grew up in Oregon. Lived for 10 years in Iowa. When will the other states (besides Michigan and a handful of others) or perhaps even the Feds get on board? My current home state, WA, does not offer returnables yet we claim to be green.

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Darby March 8, 2011 at 4:34 PM

I’ve never given to panhandlers. I’ve made my mind that I would buy them food, even break bread with them. You learn alot of interesting stuff. I even went a little beyond my boundaries and gave one or two a pack of smokes. Who am I to say what they do and don’t deserve, or to impose anything on them?

Money, though is like attention. You get what you pay attention to – and you get what you pay for. Also I know that a fool and his money soon parts. That being said, I try to pay attention to those who try to better themselves. About 5 – 8% of my income supports causes I find to support and inspire people to find greater awareness of what they will do in this world, such that they to will be in a position to do the help others some day.

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Václav March 8, 2011 at 4:46 PM

Nobody will starve without my money. There is a lot of good food in garbage cans at the worst (apart from organisations like Salvation Army or Caritas).

If someone needs money for a train ticket (another popular need), I tell them to hitchhike. Nobody really needs a train ticket.

I don’t know how to help to homeless people (and frankly, I don’t care) but I know for sure, that giving them the small amount for their sandwich/shelter/boxed wine (or whatever they say they need) wouldn’t help at all.

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Micah March 8, 2011 at 5:14 PM

I haven’t read all the comments but I thought I would put my two cents in. I rarely give but I also rarely carry cash and if I have cash it is for a specific purpose. Usually, babysitters.

I also donate over 10% of my income to charity and I volunteer my time weekly.
I donated my time and talents to build a website for this organization to feed homeless kids in public school
http://www.azbrainfood.org

People in need usually need more than money. They need hope and love.

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Brent March 8, 2011 at 5:36 PM

I understand the arguments on both sides of the issue, but do not have a consistent response to homeless people. I try to keep “kits” in my car with socks, snacks, etc. as my first option. When it is convinient, I try to buy the person food and sit with them which has led to some great and not-so-great experiences.

If a homeless person is selling anything I am much more likely to give money (in San Francisco people often sell a monthly newspaper on homelessness), but I usually try to give more strategically to charities.

It’s a tough issue as homeless people obviously need the money more than the rest of us, but it can also be enabling. I am ready to hear your friends thoughts and where you land on the issue.

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Brian March 8, 2011 at 5:43 PM

I give if i can. It really depends on if I have enough to at that moment. My financial situation at the time usually dictates if I can give or not. I do believe in karma though and try to always be nice to people and show respect regardless of class.

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David March 8, 2011 at 5:51 PM

This is a very good question. I live in the centre of Prague where I pass several beggars on the way to work. I personally prefer to give to charity – and this I do (quite often clothing).

If I give money, I prefer to buy ‘the Big Issue’, a magazine which the homeless can sell in some countries and which helps them help themselves.

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Wes March 8, 2011 at 10:23 PM

I use to not give to them and was highly against it, with the thought of they should do for themselves. But then in a conversation with a friend she shared her basic philosophy that she “has” and they “do not” so in being grateful she gives. I have taken on this belief and it was inspiring to me to have a prosperity conscious way of thinking. I have and can get more by providing value to the world so I dont feel I have to hoard the money I have. It is of course on a case by case basis and I use the “gut check” method as other people have mentioned.

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Tamara March 9, 2011 at 11:57 AM

I don’t give money. Ever. I try to keep a couple of granola bars and bus tickets in my purse so that if someone is asking for money to catch the bus, or because they are hungry I can pass along an item, instead of money. I donate regularly to charity and volunteer with inner-city agencies but I do not give money to people on the street.

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yw March 9, 2011 at 7:47 PM

Yesterday I was having a meeting with a couple of friends at a food court at the university when someone approached us and started to ask us for money. He had the whole act down – the hesitation, the ‘oh i’m so embarrassed to be asking you this’ and before he even finished speaking one of my friends brushed him off saying ‘do you mind if we just continue with the meeting here?’ He backed off immediately and went to the table next to us. I saw him repeat the same act and someone at that table actually gave him $$.

Then on my way home i saw someone begging for $$. She had a sign saying she had an autistic kid. I thought to myself, if your kid is autistic…I would think you’d be too busy working to be sitting down begging, but I guess not.

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Natasha Papousek March 9, 2011 at 10:00 PM

We have so many homeless people in San Diego! And I’m very cash-poor, so I tend to donate my services (henna body art) to charity fundraisers during my slow months. It helps raise money for worthy causes, and I just give my time and talent — which during the winter, I’ve got plenty of.

I do carry granola bars with me to give to people who are begging for food. Usually they are in the median as you get off the freeway with some sort of sign. I don’t carry cash — but nobody has every turned down a granola bar. If I lived downtown where you encounter panhandlers on every street corner, I probably would be less generous due to greater demand.

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Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers March 9, 2011 at 11:49 PM

I don’t give. I’ll happily help those who actually need it, but I’ve been around long enough to know that scammers exist. I’d prefer to give to an organization (like a shelter) that is set up to help those in need and rather than risk having it go down the drain ending up in scammers’ pockets.

What scams?

Several years ago, my wife and I were in St. Louis for a football game. I had to run to a store to grab something. On the way, a guy stopped me and asked for money, saying that he had run out of gas. I was pretty sure I was being scammed, do I didn’t give.

Three weeks later, we’re back in St. Louis (it’s about 200 miles from where we live, and I think this was the only year we attended two games). As we’re walking around near our hotel, a guy comes up and asks for money, explaining that his car had run out of gas.

Yes, the exact same guy, within a block of where I last saw him. When I suggested that he have his car serviced to make sure their wasn’t a leak in the fuel line, he didn’t have much of a response.

Another scam …

The city where I live has a university, and is known as a liberal bleeding-heart sort of place. It’s not a huge city, but there are constantly people asking for money on street corners.

As I was driving to the grocery store one day in the summer – with temperatures above 100 degrees – I spotted three people begging within perhaps a quarter of a mile. All of them wearing black sweatshirts. Again, this was 100+ degree weather. This was pretty clearly a psychological ploy to garner more sympathy for the poor people wearing black on such a hot day.

When I finished up at the grocery store, all three of them were gone. Obviously, a crew working together.

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Alexis (Minnesota) March 10, 2011 at 1:14 AM

By way of answering this I have to relay a story. My husband and I were crossing the street toward a coffee sho in Minneapolis a few years ago. Crossing toward us was a man smoking and clearly either homeless or very close to it…destitute to be sure. He asks “got any change” and I reply no. My husband simply ignores him. We continue on our way as does he. I ask my husband “am I gonna rot in hell?” Husband says “why?” I say “‘cuz I actually have change.” Husband says “no.” I ask “what if he was Jesus?” Husband says (without missing a beat) “he wasn’t Jesus.” I ask “how do you know?” Husband says “Jesus doesn’t smoke.” I bust out laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing but – no. I stopped giving to panhandlers long ago and hve started trying to give time and talent to organizations that help people who are destitute.

It’s a very complex issue and one not readily solved by throwing money at it I don’t think.

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D R @ Motivating Minutes March 10, 2011 at 1:30 AM

It used to be – “No”

Then it was – “Sometimes” after I made them promise to use it for food.

Now it’s “Yes” assuming I have change, with few restrictions…

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Deb March 10, 2011 at 9:46 AM

I like the idea of carrying some extra jackets and maybe some cans of soup around in your vehicle. I may start doing that. I also believe in giving to charitable organizations. Encountering panhandlers doesn’t happen for me very often, because I live in a rural area. The people here are poor, mostly, but also most are surrounded by family and friends as it is such a small town. I think the poverty here is mostly hidden, and mostly the norm, so people don’t feel like they are any worse off than the next guy. But we get into the *big city* (Indianapolis) once a week or so, and just the other day, I was having a quick fast food before heading home, and while I waited at the light, eating my french fries, a man on the curb motioned to me, and made a gesture like holding a burger and taking a bite. He was asking for food, and I felt very conflicted. My family and I are struggling right now — six of us, trying to make it at poverty-level — but at the moment, I had more than he appeared to have. He had another adult with him on the corner, and I truly didn’t know what to do. I had one sandwich, some fries and a coke with me, and I had a good deal of cash ($500), as I had just left our weekly farmers market where we sell our produce. I was headed straight to the bank to deposit it to pay our bills — which it would not quite cover. I ate crappy fast food rather than the healthy organic foods I’m surrounded by at the farmers market, because I was hungry, and I could get more from the fast food place. My family and I receive food assistance, but we are trying to grow our business so we can get out from under government assistance. I could have given the guy $5. I could have given him my sandwich, or my fries. But instead, I sort of shook my head, and looked away. I felt really bad. The most I ever experienced homelessness was when I was a student in England, and I’d be walking home from the market with my groceries for the week — some bread and soup and crackers and stuff, maybe some fruit and canned veg — and there was invariably a small group of women and children who took turns begging on one particular corner. I bought them a sandwich once, but I always felt weird about that, too. I had seen several of the women switch out, one holding a baby and begging at the street, while the other would go back in the alley with some other women to smoke and chat. I like to think there are decent (not great, but decent) shelters and food banks out there, where truly hungry people can get taken care of. I myself, having recently entered into the world of poverty, have learned how many organizations there are out there willing and able to help someone who knows how to reach out and ask for help. I am embarrassed to be living like this, and my husband and I are working diligently to make it unnecessary to ask for help…but I also know that help exists.

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Liz March 10, 2011 at 1:43 PM

I have a family member who, before he achieved sobriety, wound up panhandling on the street. Oddly enough, while this has given me a lot of compassion for panhandlers, it has also guaranteed that I never give them money, because my family member has talked about how he spent the money he got (hint: not on things to get him closer to getting a job and a home) and how it just encouraged him to keep asking for money instead of taking the time to reach out to local orgs that could have helped him. He did eventually get his life on track, but the money he got panhandling was enabling rather than supportive.

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Emily March 10, 2011 at 4:42 PM

I used to when I was in my twenties, but not money. I would give them bags of canned goods.

Then I found out about the lady who was posing as a poor person, raking in several hundred bucks a day, then driving home in her hidden almost-new SUV. That was the end of that.

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Afford-Anything.com March 10, 2011 at 7:14 PM

It’s notable that this topic generated 150 comments … this is obviously a controversial topic that people feel strongly about! Why the passion behind this issue? Why do so many people feel so strongly about it?

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Martyn Chamberlin March 10, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Nope. Flat out don’t.

I’m not mean or grouchy, but let’s face it. Most people who sit on the road asking for money simply don’t have self-discipline. They could go get a job and actually earn their money. Or tell people they’ll work for the food.

Maybe it didn’t use to be this way. Maybe the majority of beggars were actually incapable of work and didn’t have any family or friends. But that’s not the case of the vast majority of people today. They just want a free handout.

I work my butt off for the money I make.

If you want money, get off your butt.

Peace. :)

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Mary March 10, 2011 at 11:06 PM

If I have extra at the time, I give it, if I don’t then I do not give, but it also depends on the circumstances. More and more I do see signs from people who say they will work for food. I always try and give a little to them. I try to imagine what it is like to be in their shoes.

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Kim March 11, 2011 at 1:42 AM

I live in Portland, OR and you can’t walk 10 feet downtown without being asked for money. I hate to say that I’ve become a bit immune to it. There’s no way I could give money to all of the homeless folks and there have been many times where I’m asked day after day by the same person for “bus money.” It sounds horrible to say it but I have set some guidelines for myself. For example, I do mostly give to women. I won’t give to young kids that look like they are able-bodied. I WILL buy a Street Roots (newspaper that homeless people sell for money) from anyone and I do, often. Overall, I know it is a huge problem and it’s heartbreaking. Sometimes it kills me to think that I’m more moved to action by a stray animal than a homeless person. God, that sounds horrible but it’s true. I’m interested to hear your friends perspective on giving to the homeless. Can’t wait to hear it.

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Michelle March 11, 2011 at 1:51 AM

It depends on the situation case by case but I try to give most of the time with the exception if I see they are on drugs at the moment. As a Christian deepening my faith daily and moving away from the ruckus of college life I try to follow the path that the Lord has set forth for me. My perspective is a bit unique as well.

My mother grew up poor but paid her way through college and law school alone with no help (loans of course). Being from a privileged background but hearing her story makes me sad that others do not have yet why can they not do for themselves as well? While I always tried to give food since no one deserves to go hungry I rarely gave money.

Now, I am an independent student with little contact with my mother and left paying for college for myself. I did everything I was suppose to do. I went to private school, got good grades, was a top athlete and president of multiple clubs. The second college tuition came around, mother nowhere in sight. I’ve been on food stamps, worked 2 jobs while in school and slept on the college classroom floors after sneaking in at night in addition to sneaking into the gym to bathe. No matter how hard I tried, I saw that trying your hardest does not always cut it.

I now try to give whatever I can. I save up my tithes per little paycheck I get and give. If someone is a liar (which many NYC subway beggars are to my knowledge) that is for God to judge not me. Either way my deed was good and my hands are clean. I give with a smile, I give happily and welcome the chance to give more. The blessings that have come my way (free campus housing, found me a better job, free meal plan and extra financial aid) are well worth what I have given beggars so I will always spread the love that I have received.

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Sustainable PF March 11, 2011 at 1:58 PM

I live in Peterborough, Ontario which is a small city in Ontario, Canada. Across our country panhandlers know of our small but very giving community. Panhandlers flock here due to the giving reputation.

We prefer to give to charities that assist the homeless. That way we know the money is going toward necessities.

I personally find it frustrating to be asked each and every block for change. I do not give any away save in one circumstance. There is one fellow not much older and I (mid 30s) who sits outside the lcbo and he greets everyone with a smile and a friendly greeting. He calls people sir or maam and offers to watch cyclists bikes while they run inside. One time a cyclist left his bike unlocked. I was about a block away. When I got to about 1/2 a block away I saw a 3rd party walk up to the bike, in front of the panhandler and tried to steal the bike. Quick as a rabbit the panhandler jumped up and sprang toward the thief. He grabbed the bike and refused to let go of it and the would be thief ran away. When the thief yelled “Why do you care?” I could hear the panhandler loudly say “I told the gentleman i’d watch his bike!”.

This particular fellow is a man of his word and an honourable guy. He has obviously had some bad luck in his life. So I give him change when I have some.
And I left him watch my bike, unlocked.

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susan March 11, 2011 at 3:07 PM

I know a few of the homeless people in my neighborhood by name, and a few people who panhandle on the same subways every day. I give to those I know, who I trust. And by trust I mean trust not to make me feel threatened, who say hello to me without screaming at me for money, who seem to genuinely care I’m around, and who are obviously just trying to get by in life. I give to them because they’re a part of my daily life. And incidentally, most of the ones I give money to are the same ones who seem grateful when I give them food I have on hand instead.

I rarely give to people while traveling, because I feel it lets my guard down and make me as a target to those around me. I have on rare occasions given to those who give an amazing performance of some kind.

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Stefanie March 11, 2011 at 11:57 PM

We pass the same panhandler most days at a stoplight on the way to my daughter’s school. He is pretty ragged but always polite and courteous. I always give him a dollar if he is there because my daughter and I have taken a sincere interest in him.

I know all the arguments about shelters and alcohol abuse and scams, etc. I have argued with my friends and family about it. However, my daughter genuinely cares about him. We worry if he is gone for a few days or if the weather turns too cold. I feel that it is important that I model charity and generosity for her. She is only 5, so I feel like this is a very real and tangible way to teach her those lessons. She sees me write checks for charity and church, but the connection between the money and the people it helps is not near as real to her at this stage of development as her seeing me give “our friend” actual cash. She even asks me if I have cash as we approach the stoplight.

I don’t give to every panhandler, but I will if I can. I think that whether or not I give is all on me and my karma. Maybe they really do need it, and maybe they don’t. That is all on them and their karma. Regardless, I have to think that very few children hope and dream to one day be standing on a corner asking for handouts. So, if I can help in a small way, why not? How they use the money is not near as important to me as raising a human being who genuinely cares about the people in her world.

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Dwight Anthony March 12, 2011 at 4:21 PM

Baker, good question. I was recently in the french polynesian islands recently and there were some kid panhandlers in one of the smaller islands – Rangoria. The only english he seemed to know was “Please, one dollar – please”.

Anyway, I obliged and gave him the dollar. some would say that was stupid, I say it’s good Karma. Who knows how little effects like this could monumentally change a person’s mindset and ultimately their life.

Dwight Anthony
Financially Elite Blog

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Darwin's Money March 12, 2011 at 5:17 PM

I never do as a rule. It’s not that I don’t have empathy for the homeless now am I naive enough to believe that it couldn’t be me had my circumstances been any different. But handing over money doesn’t have any impact on their long-term well-being or situation. Sure, in some cases, they might actually buy food or whatever they say they need. Often times, it’s drugs, alcohol or something else that’s actually keeping them on the street. Many of these people are veterans, mentally ill or just down on their luck. If you really want to help a homeless person, learn more about them and see if there’s something you can do besides giving them a dollar. Because that’s not really helping them.

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MoneyIsTheRoot March 13, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Living in the Detroit area I have seen quite a few homeless downtown panhandling. I do tend to give money at times, but obviously u have to be careful where u take your money out of your pocket. I have a soft spot for some. I try to be charitable when I can

http://www.moneyistheroot.com

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Matt March 13, 2011 at 8:42 PM

I never give directly to anyone begging for money. I do give to charities and organizations that help people who are in need.

I think there are too many times where money given to panhandlers doesn’t end up helping that person – sometimes that person doesn’t even get the money in the end, and I’d much rather provide the means for something substantive (food, clothing, shelter, medicine) than support what may or may not be a destructive habit/scam/etc.

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Sandy J March 13, 2011 at 8:46 PM

I give when I feel it is right. Some people call it intuition, I call it discernment. It is a God given gift. Never feel bad about giving or think: “what will they do with the few dollars it I am giving up”? It is not up to you to decide their intentions or motives. If you have a pull in your heart that tells you to give then do it. Don’t ever look back or regret your desicion.

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Lynn March 13, 2011 at 9:17 PM

Yes, I would give to anyone no matter sex, age, or race. We are all God’s people, and no one can judge us until they have walked in our shoes. I have given what I can and when I have it to give/share.

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trixiebell March 13, 2011 at 10:31 PM

money – rarely; once I gave a guy a dollar after spending $5 on lottery tickets
leftovers – almost always; I generally won’t end up eating leftovers and after years of throwing away week-old take-out cartons, I moved into a place which opened onto an urban park; there were usually homeless sitting on some of the park benches and I started leaving my leftovers for them; they were always grateful and more than once I got a “you’re awesome!” hollered at me. It’s better someone who may be hungry is able to eat than have it mold in my refrigerator.

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Lamb's Bread March 14, 2011 at 5:58 AM

I remember being scolded by a friend, during my high school years, in downtown Miami for giving money to a beggar. His reasoning was that the misfortunate person was taking advantage, simply because he was lazy. For awhile, after that, I would withdraw lending a dollar or even loose change. My perception shifted when I entered the workforce. It seems paradoxical, just because I was working and the beggars weren’t didn’t leave me feeling more disdain towards them. I begin to give again; especially to those who looked the worse off. I kept the logic simple: no matter the reason, there is something wrong in these people’s lives. Sure, some might be taking “advantage” but the overall odds are, they aren’t; and the loose change in my pockets, once handed out, will not have an impact on my overall personal finances.

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Ouida Vincent March 14, 2011 at 11:34 AM

I don’t give money. I will occasionally give food. I believe it was Newsweek or Time many years ago that ran an article on panhandling. According to the article Panhandlers tend to target women and minorities double trouble for me! There were times when I was a kid that we didn’t have much money but we always had food and a place to live. It’s not the money, but rather whether or not that money makes any impact. I was a volunteer cook at community center that doubled a homeless shelter in Manhattan. The shelter had rules: it was a safe place to sleep, it was not a place to live and people had to work when they left the shelter in the morning. I don’t really know how they enforced that rule. The shelter took in women and women with children. I saw for the first time working people who just couldn’t put a roof over their heads and I also saw a direct link between my actions and a positive impact on someone else. I think that when we give anything, that is what we are looking for.

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Dean Saliba March 14, 2011 at 3:58 PM

I am, much more likely to give someone money if I see they have a dog with them. Not sure what that says about me.

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rob March 15, 2011 at 6:04 PM

I’d give him a dollar just for having cool dreds! No but in all seriousness i’d rather give it to an organised charity so that i’d know that my money was being used properly rather than to fund a personal addiction. But food yes wouldn’t want to see anyone go hungry.

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Colleen March 15, 2011 at 7:48 PM

I used to give to panhandlers and people in need and then I was burned. When I was in college, I was driving home (about 4-5 hours away) and stopped for gas at the midway point. A couple approached me with a gas can. They ran out of gas, could I spare some money to help them. Even though I was desperately broke (I had used my debit card in the gas pump and PRAYED it wouldn’t be rejected for insufficient funds), I gave them the last $5 I had in my wallet. Money I had planned to use to buy food. My thought was “what would I want for someone to do for me if I were in the situation.” Fast forward 6 or so months and I’m at the same gas station and the SAME couple approaches me with the same story. I was crushed.
When people told stories of panhandlers who did it as a job and not out of desperation, I always defended the majority. I still believe that a majority of people who are homeless need the money, but I now give by donating to shelters and food banks. If it is feasible, I’ll give/buy food or beverages for the person, but I no longer give money.

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Jenna March 15, 2011 at 8:34 PM

When people come up to me, I’ll give any coin change I have on me since it just goes into my change bin, but I don’t ever pull out bills due to general paranoia (single woman with a child on her hip = easy target if you show you have a wad of cash on you. It’s why I don’t carry a purse either). If I’m someplace public like a gas station and someone asks to do something like wash my windows, I’ll pull out several dollars as a tip, since I far prefer supporting them attempting to do some work for the money to just asking for handouts. If they ask for food, or ask for money for food, I’ll frequently pull through a drive-through or walk into a convenience store and get them a few burgers or something else fairly cheap. The knowledge that the money is really going towards food and not heroin or booze makes me more willing to be generous. I’d even prefer to give cookies or pastries rather than sodas, coffee, and such since water in Arizona is always free by law.

Factors like age and gender don’t generally affect my likelihood to give handouts, though things like approaching me in a deserted parking lot at night tends to have me walking away quickly rather than sticking my hands in my pockets. Kids don’t generally affect me one way or another either, though I might mention our Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program to make sure they’re on the food checks program, and direct them to the nearest office if they are not.

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JM March 15, 2011 at 8:35 PM

As background, and in answer to the folks to talk about feeling guilty, charitable giving (and self-directed charity, aka “savings”) is run through the budget just like all the other financial responsibilities. My husband and I chose to increase our giving to our local food bank when the economy went south.

When it comes to panhandlers, I’m like a lot of your readers when I say, “It depends.” I am not at all consistent in terms of the asker’s demographics or location or form of asking, but I am consistent about two things. I trust my heart/gut/instinct/intuition and give (or not) accordingly. Once I’ve done that, I subscribe to the philosophy I’ve seen mentioned here, which is that I don’t second-guess the decision. It’s true that I don’t know how the money or gift will really be used, and I’m OK with that … once I have given something away, it is no longer within my realm of control (or interest). The other thing I am consistent about is this: Whether or not I choose to give something, I am intentional about acknowledging the person doing the asking. I do that with warm eye contact and sometimes a comment or conversation. I don’t want to be a player in the game that dehumanizes others, no matter what their circumstances and choices.

Can’t wait to read your thoughts on all this!

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David Willis March 16, 2011 at 12:03 AM

I am more apt to give to ones I haven’t seen before. I take most of the same routes throughout the week and there are several panhandlers that I see on the same corner day in and day out. I don’t give to them at all. Others I am more touched by. Ones with kids especially.

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Kurt March 16, 2011 at 9:18 AM

As a general rule, no, I don’t give to panhandlers, especially not those who appear to be able-bodied. There are a wide variety of organizations available to help those in need, all someone has to do is ask and they can receive help legitimately.

That said, I once gave five dollars to a man panhandling at a stop light in Baltimore. He had no legs and one arm; the guy was pulling himself down the street between stopped cars with a single crutch. It looked like his disability was congenital. He wasn’t faking it, and I can’t begin to imagine trying to deal with the problems life dealt him. The very least I could do was spare five bucks.

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Kristina March 16, 2011 at 10:19 AM

I don’t usually carry change, so I tell them not today. Then once a month or so, I take all my change and put it in my pocket, and give to almost everyone who asks (you can’t look like your going to spend it on drugs or alcohol). I will almost always give to a busker if I know there going to be there – love the music on the trains!

Otherwise, I’ve given train tickets to help them get warm in the winter time, and my emergency granola bars for the ones who will accept food.

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Elizabeth March 16, 2011 at 10:54 AM

I don’t give to anyone on the street. I work in NYC so I pass a lot of them during the day. My father shared a story with me… he was on his way to work early (6 a.m.ish), and as he passed Grand Central station, he watched a woman — a woman he recognized as a homeless person who begged for money with an infant in her arms outside the station regularly — get out of a limo… in her ripped up clothing and take her place outside GC.

Who knows her story… but that was the day I swore off handing out change. Now I only give money to entertainment groups who actually qualify for space in the train stations or I give straight to shelters and organizations!

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Jorge March 16, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Where I live, many panhandlers have been employed by crooks to knock on doors and ask for a handount. In reality they’re finding out on the house’s situation to report to their boss if the house is alone, if it is just a lady and her children, a partying bachelor and so on.
If the conditions are appropriate and easily predictable, that house becomes the candidate for a robbery where they will clean the house out of anything that is not bolted to the ground.

In my case, it constitutes a serious risk to speak or give anything to a homeless person, so I rather make them keep their distance.

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Nicole March 16, 2011 at 2:14 PM

I try not to assume anything about these folks unless there’s a very good, obvious reason. As another Christian the line that perpetually nags at me is “whatever you did (/did not do) for the least of these, you did (/did not do) for me.”

I have gotten accustomed to carrying plastic instead of cash, so that often makes things very simple. If I say I don’t have change, I’m not lying. However, if I do, I try to keep things in perspective…it’s only a buck. What was I going to do with it, anyway? Blow it on my Starbucks habit? I may not be wealthy but I ain’t honest-to-goodness poor. It’s only money, not a heart transplant or something.

I remember all of “my” panhandlers so far. One guy was out in 80-degree weather for hours at a time; I figured that was harder than anything I’ve had to do for a living.

Another was a relatively young guy. I wasn’t going to stop at first, but it struck me as ironic that I was on my way to that cesspool of materialism known as [insert name of local upscale mall]. When I looked closer I saw a woman standing at a distance who I suspected was his wife. Doing the math in my head, I figured he must have been the breadwinner at one time, and so he was just getting down to business, doing what was necessary to provide for his family. How much more humiliating it must have been for her to beg. We were right next to a sandwich shop, so I got him one, which he accepted with awkward thanks. I couldn’t tell him where to find work, so it seemed like the least I could do. As I drove off I saw him and the woman standing together, about to divvy the sandwich up. Cha-ching!

One woman I ran into outside a convenience store, and she asked if I could buy her some food. I couldn’t tell if she was in need, and honestly, the stuff she picked was junk food, but it made her so ridiculously happy — thanking me profusely and giving me a hug — that I couldn’t begrudge it.

One guy claimed he wanted to get a slice of pizza, and because I was totally prepared to go to the pizza shop, it became clear that he was bluffing. He left empty-handed. Oh well, not my fault.

Then there was the guy standing by the road with his sign, looking so dejected it broke my heart. I thought I couldn’t help, and then I realized I could get some inexpensive sandwiches at Target. By the time I came back, it looked like he had given up and was long gone. I wish I had been thinking and told him just to hold on a little while. That bothered me, I really felt like I had failed that day. Call me a sucker or a bleeding heart, but I don’t want to take a chance of failing someone if it does really matter.

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Sarah March 16, 2011 at 9:29 PM

I had never seen panhandlers until I moved from small town Iowa to the Seattle area. Rumor has it that people out here make a good tax free living from it. I don’t care. If I have a few extra dollars and the person looks needy I will freely give it away. But for the grace of God go I.

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deRuiter March 17, 2011 at 6:34 AM

You have a nice yard. You put up a bird feeder to share your largess and to have the sound of a few chirping birds in the yard. You think, “It will be fun to feed a few birds, it will make me feel good to see them eating.” Suddenly there are more and more birds, and they are raucusly asking for food. Then more birds, demanding food. They are roosting everywhere, pooping on the walks, pooping on tree branches, on the lawn so you (the owner who works to pay taxes) and your children can not walk on the lawn. The blue jays dive bomb you and your chiledren when you walk in the yard. The birds peck at the feeders and disturb you with loud squawks. Filling the bird feeders becomes time consuming, and a financial burden because there are an unlimited supply of these grifter birds sponging off you and not gathering food for themselves. Life in your yard becomes insufferable with the pollution, the filth, the germs, the complaints, the demands to refill the feeders multi times per day. YOU ARE MISERABLE AND IN FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES FROM BUYING SO MUCH BIRD FOOD. You stop feeding the birds, you take down the feeders and sell them at a yard sale, The birds go away and you have peace, quiet, a clean yard, and financial problems end.

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Radman March 17, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Only if human beings were only birds, it would be so simple. But guess what? They’re not. And on another approach, if they were only birds in my yard, I might shoot them. Problem solved. Would you do the same if they were living, breathing human beings? I think not.

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Genny March 17, 2011 at 7:37 AM

I used to live in a big city and would encounter panhandlers often. If I saw one in front of a fast food restaurant asking for food, I would offer to take them in and buy a meal or anything they wanted. No one accepted my offer. Their excuse was they were waiting for a friend, so they wanted me to give them money so they could buy food when their friend showed up later. Problem is with that story is that when I came out of the restaurant myself after ten minutes or so, the person would be gone. So I new that they weren’t interested in food, just money.

Anyone asking for bus fare had to get on the bus and I would put the fare money in the box. Too many asking for bus fare said they were taking a different bus (usually the opposite bus (south vs the northbound I was waiting on) and wanted me to give them the cash for their bus fare.

It’s so hard to tell the real thing from the scammers that I just never gave money. I offered to buy whatever it was they needed, within reason. Almost no one took me up on it in all my 16 years living in a big city.

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Darla March 17, 2011 at 8:42 AM

I typically give money when I have it. I believe that in the big picture, doing the right thing is the right thing to do. I don’t spend my life evaluating every detail of every scenario trying to figure out if it’s worthy. I am a Christian and I answer to God. He knows my intentions and actions. I’m sure there are times where my funds go to the wrong recipients, but I am willing to risk that knowing that sometimes it will go where it is desperately needed.

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Wendy March 17, 2011 at 1:28 PM

In our area, people ask for money or food at traffic lights. My husband and I make up snack packs, containing nonperishable snacks like nuts, granola bars, cheese and crackers, candy, and beef jerky, and keep them in the car. We hand them out to people who are panhandling at traffic lights.

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Kendall March 17, 2011 at 8:16 PM

I lived in Los Angeles for the past couple of years and just moved back to Orange County, California. It’s devastating seeing so many homeless people every time you leave your apartment. I went down to skid row one time and that was absolutely heart breaking. The homeless people with children are the worst. How could you not give money to them? There’s also those with pet dogs, those break my heart too! I had to go to the ATM every other day when I lived there to make sure I had cash on me.

The crazy thing is that we are all used to the normal looking homeless people (scraggly and smelling of booze), but now we have a different type of homeless. There’s the individuals that used to be swimming in wealth and then, because of the downward spiral of the economy, became homeless. In fact, 1,596,355 Americans petitioned for bankruptcy this last year in 2010. Hopefully since they’re restarting by cleaning up their credit they won’t be one of the many unfortunate on the streets.

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Becky P March 18, 2011 at 5:12 PM

I give to people I know. I don’t give money, but will buy food or even pay an electric bill if isn’t too much. I’ve bought medicine for someone within the last couple of weeks.

But I give to people I already know. Here in Poland there are “professional beggars” and I’d rather be an encourager of their ways.

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Steve in W MA March 19, 2011 at 8:06 PM

I do occasionally give money to people on the street, but usually in moments of weakness. In most cases I don’t think that it does much good. To the ocCASIONAL person I know fairly well who is a long time borderline street person/has mental issues, I am likely to give “loans” to that are in most cases never paid back. Altogether there are a few people who are “into” me for around $1000. One of them pays it back on a schedule. The other is an alcoholic who is still pretending he doesn’t have a problem, and I doubt he’ll ever truly “hit bottom” and wise up. He might hit bottom, but he won’t wise up. And I doubt I’ll see my money from him again. The other guy is a chancer and a charming con artist. I gave him $5 just the other day and he said he was going to pay me back today. He hasn’t paid me and If he does try to pay me another day I will refuse it and say–no–just keep it and don’t ever ask me again.

I gave a lot of money when I was younger. Now that I’m in my 40s my general attitude is that I’ve given enough, and I leave it to the newer, younger, and still naive and fresh ones to give money until they too no longer have it in them to give.

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Edwin @ Save The Bills March 20, 2011 at 1:14 AM

I do not give to panhandlers. There are shelters that feed them and give them a roof over their heads. The money they’re asking for is to buy what they can’t get at the shelter, like drugs and alcohol.

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Nea March 20, 2011 at 2:16 AM

I recently relocated to a place that offers meals to the homeless any day of the week, so there isn’t any reason for someone to go without food. However, I moved from Memphis, TN. It was a high poverty area and I had the personal experience of trying to find a shelter for a homeless woman with children. Knowing the plight of the poor (including veterans & disabled), I often gave money. Sometimes $1.00, sometimes $10.00. I’ve seen a person with a beer 5 minutes later. Other times I saw that they bought something to eat.

I’d rather give money to the wrong person once than to be so skeptical that I miss an opportunity to help someone.
http://self-improvement-saga.com/

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Wifey of a Roadie March 20, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Hello,

My husband and I have lived in Los Angeles and LA County for about five years now. When we first moved out here we gave money but we quickly found out that many of these folks either use the money for drugs or alcohol or are just lazy. So what we started doing was offering them our leftover food or asking if we could buy food for them. It’s a good way to decipher if someone is actually needy or just wants the cash.

Wifey of a Roadie – out!

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Meredith March 20, 2011 at 6:09 PM

I used to be one of these homeless people-and I am infuriated and embarrassed by what other commenters have said. The majority of us that are homeless have some sort of mental or emotional problem that makes it impossible to get a job. And seriously, no one is going to hire a person that looks homeless. A shelter can only get you so far, and most of them are overcrowded and/or unsafe for women.

When I was homeless, I never once used money to purchase alcohol or drugs, and I never saw anyone do that either. Those that are asking for money to purchase either alcohol or drugs are usually self-medicating. For example, someone with bipolar disorder obviously cannot afford mental health care or the prescriptions it would require to treat, and so they will self-medicate with alcohol during manic periods.

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Mararose March 20, 2011 at 11:52 PM

This is an uncomfortable subject. I wish I could say that I give to those who appear to be In genuine need. I usually do not have any spare change with me. I do try to respect the dignity of the person asking me. I like the idea od having granola bars to give. I live in a city where there seems to be a lot of homelessness. Many of these people are obviously mentally ill, and 30 years ago, would have been in an institution, not struggling on the street. I also believe that with enough bad life experiences at once, or stacking up, such as loss of work, foreclosure of a home, lack of social support, having no family, and a serious health issue–there but for the grace of God goes even you or I. When I see a woman or an older person, especially, I find I am uncomfortable, but also feel compassion & sadness, and wonder what went wrong in their life, that they hit bottom & landed on the street.

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AB March 22, 2011 at 2:41 PM

* one time, a guy asked me for $30 bucks for a bus ticket to a city 2 hours away. I took him down to the bus station, bought him a ticket, and made sure he was on the bus out of town. In retrospect, I don’t think the $30 was for a bus ticket.

* if a person is a ‘regular’, and has a specific corner they hang out on, day in and day out – I usually avoid them. That is a telltale sign that: A: that location is profitable enough for them to return, and B: They are more likely one of these people who does it for a full-time job. I have personally witnessed enough examples of this to spot the pattern.

* As a smoker, I often get hit up for cigarettes. I give these out. Usually people say thanks and head on down the road. Sometimes they stick around and the discussions are interesting. Even if you don’t smoke cigarettes, these are a cheap alternative to giving out money. Just say “no cash, sorry, just smokes”.

* if someone is panhandling outside a convenience store, asking for food, I will always buy them some. More than a few times I have bought them a hot chocolate when it’s cold, even though they didn’t ask for money.

* I believe in doing to others as you would have them do to you. I also believe in not doing to others what I would rather them not do. If I was really down and out and in need of a hand up, I would hope some discerning soul would see the truth of the situation and be that point of contact to pull me out of despondency. But if I were just trying to scam them to get cash for crack, I would hope they’d see through the BS and not enable my addiction.

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Zach March 22, 2011 at 4:24 PM

This is a great question. It’s really difficult to determine a stance because each person is different, every case and situation varies, and people’s stories are unique. Because of that I tend to treat it on a case by case basis. If I am able and feel compelled, I am happy to share a meal or bus pass, etc. I do not believe in giving out money however. Again, I know it’s a controversial topic but that is my stance on the matter.

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Maf March 23, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I live in the Bay Area and there is almost always a panhandler present at my exit off the freeway. Each day it is a different person. I do not believe in giving them cash because I am afraid they will buy alcohol or drugs with it, but I feel so guilty about just driving on by without helping. So now, what I do, is as I collect hotel shampoos and soaps (unused), and also get gift cards to shops I do not frequent (payless shoes, burger king, etc), I put together little packages with toiletries and a gift card inside. I keep them in the middle console of my car, and hand them out when I am stopped at the light. I hand them to the person and explain what it is, and they’ve said “Bless You” and “Thank You” and are very grateful. It makes me feel good, and hopefully too it helps the recipient.

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kelly elder March 23, 2011 at 6:15 PM

My mother was sitting with an accountant at a tepanyaki restaurant and he said he had a client who was a panhandler and he said that his client made more than $150k/year. Imagine if 200-300 people give a dollar to the person, they make quite a living… and some people give more than a dollar. Perhaps I will change my line of work. I will give someone in need a meal, or put some gas in their vehicle, but will refuse to give them money. Everytime that the people say “I need money for gas” I say, where is your car parked, and they say, “Over there” and point off in a vague direction. I say, “Ok, take me to it and I will put a couple gallons of gas in it for you, and they say, “Ahh, it is ok, I will just keep on walking around to just get money for gas, but thanks for the offer…”

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Dee March 26, 2011 at 1:19 AM

I generally keep fast food gift cards with me to give to someone asking for food.
I rarely give cash.

Dee

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Theresa March 26, 2011 at 10:40 PM

I have given to panhandlers of every age, gender, race, etc. I am an equal opportunity giver. I will not give to anyone who is aggressive though.

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Brandon March 27, 2011 at 3:29 AM

I live in Seattle, and work in a neighborhood with a large homeless population. I used to give money to panhandlers when I felt really moved, sometimes when I really didn’t have the money to give, but it started to feel very fruitless after a while. It really feels like a tiny percentage that are honest and put the money to good use. Now I won’t give money directly.

I still occasionally buy food or meals for the homeless, more frequently for families than individuals. And I will talk to homeless people occasionally, which they appreciate even if I have nothing I can give them that day. There was a gentleman I talked to fairly regularly for a few months that I ended up helping with some clothes for an interview that got himself off of the street.

In the end, I think volunteering, donating to a charity or helping directly without simply handing money has the strongest positive impact.

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Massi March 29, 2011 at 4:21 AM

I practice microcredit via Kiva.org.
After a lot of thinking and some research on the topic, now I’m quite sure it’s the most effective way to help people in need, because it makes real changes in their life.
As for my daily life, in my country (Italy), I already pay state, regional and local taxes (almost half of our income goes away in taxes). They are in charge of taking care of the extremely poors (e.g. free medical care), by means of our taxes.
I almost never give anything to gipsy children, begging at crossroads (there’s plenty in Italy, they migrated from eastern europe). It would mean giving money to the criminals that send them on the roads instead of taking them to school. Their parents have no excuses, school is free here, even for non-italian people.

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Nicole March 29, 2011 at 10:17 PM

Sometimes I give loose change if they are at a street corner with a sign. I feel uncomfortable if they come directly to me. Regular people who seem to live under the same area I will bring them a bag of clothes or food or other goodies. We do not live in an area with a great deal of panhandlers.

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Debora March 30, 2011 at 5:44 PM

I live in a small town and we don’t have panhandlers like in the big city. We have given on occasion when they knocked on our door in the middle of the night but most of the time if I’m asked for money, I can offer a small job. If they are willing to do that (rake the yard, pick up sticks etc.) I’ll feed them and send away with what I would have paid someone to do…..if they do an equivalent job.

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Tony March 31, 2011 at 6:00 PM

There is no way in hell I will give a penny to panhandlers…I work as a fireman in a big city and I deal with these scam artists on a daily basis. Not only do I give thousands each year in taxes to subsidize this type of behavior, but I constantly pick up their drunk/drugged out behinds and take them to a hospital numerous times a day where they bilk that system too.

I absolutely give to bon-a-fide charities, however, I will not encourage or fund people that DO NOT WANT TO HELP THEMSELVES!

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Nikki | strippedcanvas.com March 31, 2011 at 9:48 PM

I live in Hollywood and I can see why so many people are jaded.

For me, I look at it in a quick moment of the present — Do THEY need this dollar more than I do at this moment? The answer is usually always Yes.
I do try to give food more than giving money but sometimes I don’t have time and I go with my gut response.. which is to help in any way that I can at that quick passing.

I do like the idea that Maf posted several posts up: little bag of toiletries and a gift card or two. I think I’m going to do that from now on!

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Kalli April 7, 2011 at 5:39 AM

I’m a sucker for people who tell me they’re hungry since I’m a foodie. But I’m over giving cash/food to people in the streets. Because the last time I was fishing around for cash to help someone in my purse, he stole my cell phone. Giving money to beggars is supporting a system that doesn’t help anybody. Direct them to an organization instead.

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Richard Stooker April 14, 2011 at 8:55 PM

I worked over thirty years for a government social service organization in a poor neighborhood. In the United States, if someone is over 65, blind or disabled and has no income, they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If the homeless person you see is not on that already , they should either be applying or going to work. Many are already getting SSI, veteran’s checks, Social Security or other incomes.

The vast majority are going to spend your spare change on booze or drugs. That’s just reality. Many do need professional help, but not cash to misuse.

And yes, some are just scammers. Like the man who told me he was living at a fictitious homeless shelter then walked away when I tried to direct him to a real one. Or the couple who used to ask for gasoline money to take their sick child to a hospital in East St Louis Illinois even though they were standing right in front of Children’s Hospital in St Louis.

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Lisa April 15, 2011 at 11:10 AM

I generally give if I have cash on hand and bills under $10, or under $20 if I feel compelled. If someone is asking for food and I have it or am going in to buy it – Yes. I’ve given rides to people in need, although I don’t know that they qualify as pan handlers. The usually ask for money. I feel that I am priviledged enough to have a lifestyle where I am able to give, so I should. Some might be scammers, but they might not be. We have very few pan handlers so it’s easier to make that call. Most of the people I see on the street are “regulars”. When I visited a larger city with more people panhandling, it was stickier. However, limiting the cash on hand took care of the problem. “Sorry, I already gave all my cash to the last guy”.

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Rob April 16, 2011 at 6:58 PM

I usually give some money. I’m pretty fortunate and it doesn’t hurt me to share with someone less fortunate.

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MaryNYC April 18, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Yes, I give like crazy. I have already been informed of the nature of many of the comments here. I was once of the same mindset, but no more. Visit my neighborhood near the intersection of 86th St. and Lexington Ave in NYC, and you will see the haves and the have-nots. No reason I should be clinging to every last dollar or bit or change, when someone else needs it.

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MaryNYC April 18, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Oh, and just to add: one fellow is my personal “project.” he tells me what he’s hungry for, and I buy it, within reason. He is hungry and cold, not looking for booze (at least not from me, and he has never asked.) I also took a nice down coat to a homeless woman. I figured it might as well go to her, and not to a Goodwill store that will sell it.

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Allison April 30, 2011 at 10:06 PM

I dont give money but I do try to keep a “survival pack” on hand in my car. My area youth homeless shelter asks for survival and hygeine packs to hand out to the local homeless so I figure if thats what they hand out its a good option for me too. The survival packs include things like granola bars, fruit snacks, juice paks, nuts etc and the hygeine pack include sample size toothpaste, deoderant, razors, combs etc. Makes me feel much better to give something helpful like that rather than money. I know the kits will help out no matter who I see.
Good luck finding the answer you’re looking for!

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Pamela May 31, 2011 at 11:23 AM

I’ve yet to see a panhandler ask for food.

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David June 27, 2011 at 12:31 AM

I occasionally give to panhandlers. Though if a panhandler is aggressive or rude they get nothing from me. For me, if i do give, it is a feeling of sincerity from the panhandler. If they truly seem to be in need then I give a few dollars.

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Sandy July 4, 2011 at 9:28 PM

If I have food or money, I typically will give something. I am reminded that I never know who might be Jesus. It is not my responsibility to judge whether they will put money to good use. I’m looking forward to reading your response to your question :)

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Curt July 28, 2011 at 9:10 AM

In the past I have given plenty, now I am asking myself! It’s a sign of the times!

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Susan August 29, 2011 at 5:07 PM

It does not matter whether the person is male or female, old or young, healthy-looking or scraggly and weak. If I had the money and someone asked, I would buy food for the person from a restaurant. I have no problem buying a cup of coffee for someone from Starbucks, if the person asked for it. If I were in a third world country, it is more likely that I would give money to a panhandler, than here in the United States. Children increase the likelihood of my giving, also. The only situations that make me reluctant to give to panhandlers are suspicion that the panhandler is a con-artist or if I feel that the money will be used to buy drugs. I am also reluctant to give to the same persons over and over again.

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Bonnie September 18, 2011 at 1:38 AM

I live in a very small town in a rural part of the U.S. If I see a panhandler I quite often give either money, food or a ride. Where we live there aren’t many places these people can go. We have no homeless shelter at all and only a small organization that helps people in need which is not open 24/7.

There is one man in particular that I have given to many times, usually only enough for a meal because that is usually all the cash I have on me. You might say I don’t know what he’s going to use the money for but you’d be wrong. He sits outside KFC next to the grocery store and always spends the money on fried chicken. He is very sweet, elderly and sick. I’ve known some people in our community that have had a hard time getting the resources they need because of government red-tape and so end up hungry and homeless.

I don’t know if you should give to every panhandler you see. I think you have to weigh each circumstance as it presents itself. Because I live in a small community, I rarely see panhandlers and to be honest I don’t always stop. But there are definitely times when I have to stop and help.

In a large city like L.A. there are definitely more panhandlers than there are here and there are definitely more and better relief organizations. I doubt you could stop and help every panhandler you see. But there might be a time when you have to stop and help and I think that’s okay. I don’t really see it as a cut and dry issue.

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heater October 21, 2011 at 6:33 PM

I am in LA and I do not give to panhandlers, I have in the past and sometimes I still do. I do however give to people playing music or doing other things. I do feel torn and I see the same people everyday ask for money. The panhandlers are getting more aggressive too, if you happen to accidentally wear your badge for work out into the streets they will call to you by name and ask for money. Being called by name is always startling and somewhat scary. If I gave to everyone I would probably be in trouble money wise myself. I know I am very blessed to have a job and some money, however with the financial crisis I am barely getting by myself. The world is a very scary place.

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WheredoesGodfindme? November 15, 2011 at 7:27 AM

I’ve been going out with a homeless ministry in the Midwest. I was challenged by a multi millionaire to “keep grounded” with the blessings God has given. For the last 3 weeks I have carried a backpack with food, toothbrushes, first aid kits etc. looking for people in my city. I can’t wrap my arms around the feelings that encompass me. It is a blend of compassion and disgust. I’ll call it “dispassion” from here on. I’ve been dying to relate to these people and understand. The more questions that are answered, the more dispassion I feel.

3 of the 4 people I spoke w/ last night said they preferred life on the streets. It was explained to me that the 3 people that preferred it were violent drunks. The one had stabbed his best friend in a drunken rage but was not arrested because he wouldn’t testify. The second wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything and was constantly getting into fights. The 3rd was also a fighter when intoxicated, though all of them were completely docile and friendly while I spoke with them. They all said that the streets were a dangerous place. I asked “Where does the danger come from?” Their reply was “From ourselves”. They were more upset at the police for cutting their tents to get them to move on than their own drunken friends who could kill them in a unforeseen rage. I asked “When do you want the police to remove the dangerous ones?” The reply was “You don’t”.

I am literally holding my head together trying to wrap my arms around “Where does God find me?” Is my dispassion hindering my Christian walk? Am I not able to give grace to people and the worst end of our society?

Where is the hope for these people that have addictions like all of us. Their addicted in a way that they are hamstrung for the rest of their lives which could be this winter. They will not go to the shelters because they cannot give up alcohol.

This contrasts so sharply with the benevolence ministry that I also volunteer at. The design of that ministry is to teach responsibility while helping.

.

I went looking to bring hope and care for these people. I found

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Jill Sonsteby November 30, 2011 at 6:35 PM

I was recently asked for money from a local on the island I live on off the coast of Honduras. I had met the gentleman a few months prior so we were familiar with one another. I was biking around running errands when he came up behind me at one of my stops and asked me for some money. I immediately asked him what he needed. He replied with just some basic needs like some water and pain medicine because he had a headache. I said that I would be glad to go into the store with him and purchase those things, but I don’t just hand out money when people ask. He respected that and actually apologized for asking. I told him he didn’t need to apologize, but I just don’t feel handing out money is the solution for helping people. He was grateful and it ended up only be about $2.50. I was glad to help him with some water and over-the-counter medicine for his pain.

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scott krevat December 25, 2011 at 9:02 PM

once in toronto a panhandler asked me for a loonie, I reached into my pocket and tossed him the coin. A few minutes later he ran up to me and asked me “What the heck am i supposed o do with this”. I took a close look at the coin I tossed to him and said :If your ever in Buffalo, you can get a free ride on the merry go round in the zoo”

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Lou January 8, 2012 at 9:45 PM

My son was a heroin addict for 10 years (almost 2 years clean today, by God’s grace). He was homeless for a good part of that time in Michigan, Arizona, Texas, California, Nevada. He has told me countless stories of people who gave him money, food, or just looked him in the eye with compassion. Do you think he didn’t know he was viewed as scum, dirty, hopeless? He remembers every person who handed him a cup of coffee, bought him a hamburger, or gave him $5 without conditions. One time my son was walking in downtown Detroit on a bitterly cold winter day with only a light sweatshirt on when a man pulled up along side him. My son was cautious, not knowing his intentions. The man got out of his car, handed my son his coat, said “you need this more than I do, brother”, got back in his car and drove away.

My son is alive today because of that man, and countless others who did not try to “figure out” if they were doing the right thing.

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Bill June 7, 2012 at 8:21 PM

Im a volunteer if fighter and EMT, I feel I give more than my share of my time and possibly my life to save others from harm, but I won’t give homeless people a dime in cash and I’ll tell you why. I was in the casino industry for 12 years and down in Los Angeles I worked at a major card club in the Bell Gardens area.

It was frequented by a few people who shall we say we’re questionable characters at best, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One day while I was working, I overheard one of the homeless guys that spend a lot of time in the club begging money from people that win jackpots etc., exclaim while he was playing blackjack, that earlier in the day he had sat on an off ramp and made over 300 dollars tax free and that’s what he was gambling with today.

Another time I was going into a super market to buy groceries and a man approached me saying that he was trying to get home to Reno but he had run out of gas and money, he had a wife and a kid in the car with him and could I help him out with a few bucks to buy gas to get him home. I declined. A few days later I was in another parking lot a mile or so away and the same guy approached me with the same story, that he had ran out of gas THAT day and needed to get back home so his wife could have a baby,

I’ll give my time to honorable organizations that assist those in need, but never will I give out even a penny, because you can’t believe any story you hear on the street.

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Anastasia September 28, 2012 at 2:04 AM

A very good question and great opportunity to share some information about the homeless:

Yes, I do when I can; a good idea is train tickets, payphone cards, money and food. The best help could also be a map with directions to the nearest shelter, refuge or social worker office and then the money to call that place on a payphone.

Some facts people don’t know:

1) The homeless can’t “get a job” you need an address for a job, for legal and taxation reasons.
Also who will really employ the homeless? It will become harder the longer they are homeless.

2) If the homeless has a job or under-the-table arrangement in order to step around the legal forms you sign which require an ADDRESS to work—you don’t instantly get a house, just because you have a job.

Job doesn’t = house we have established you need an address to work. Now they have to break the law with some seedy, cash in hands job.
You are paid fortnightly or monthly depending on which country you live. If they have to go cash in hand, due to no address… how long do you think it will take to save up for bond and rent?
Who will rent to the homeless?
How long before they are robbed while saving up? Arrested?

3) They will need money to stay in a cheap motel/hotel/hostel and the train ticket to get there while they are looking for work and an apartment.
Where will they stay? Some of the cheapest may be $15-$20 per night and don’t forget they need to eat, shower and try to maintain some standard so they can eventually find work or be accepted on a lease.

6) If it is a female there is higher risk of being raped each night spent uncovered and on the street. Most likely they are asking for money to get a roof over their head.
Where will they go to get out of danger? How will they run and call police on their mobile if they are expected to sell their mobile or “iphone” by judgemental people?

7) Nice clothes, mobiles and other items is no indicator of need. They have mobile or nice clothes from the life before being homeless. (Recession, company layoffs etc)
They can’t sell their mobile as this is the safety line to get help from social worker or police while they are trying to secure a home.

9) People can get into debt, have a job or have the rent increase and get evicted. It is not as hard as people think to be homeless.

10) Not all homeless are unemployed or mentally ill. They just may not be able to pay their rents anymore or have unexpected medical expenses come up, made redundant at work…things can just go wrong to the best of us.
Once they lose that house…It’s pretty much game over… It’s near impossible to get work again without an address.

11) In the case they are mentally ill or sick in some way the above steps won’t even be possible. They will not have the capacity to explain their need for money to get a train ticket or transport to a hospital, shelter or motel stay.
They will not know how to find social workers or someone to assist them into emergency accommodation.

12) The best chance they have is a safe refuge or hospital with a social worker advocating for them to get into the workplace or treatment for any condition they have

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