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Should you Give Money to Panhandlers?

Last updated by on 27 Comments

Giving Money to Panhandlers: A Question of Ethical Principles (or Tugged Emotions)

Panhandlers, beggars, the homeless, street bums, human beings… call them what you will, but lets just categorize them as ‘people in the streets asking you for your money’.

For clarification, I’d put street performers in whole different category altogether. If Spoonman shows up in my town and puts on a show, I’m throwing in a 5-spot. A street mime? Probably not. Calhoun Tubbs? Absolutely. But I digress…

Why you Shouldn’t Give Money to Panhandlers

You may have a number of reasons why you wouldn’t give a panhandler money (these aren’t personal opinions, just reasons I’ve heard from others):

  • panhandler begging“They’ll just spend it on something they shouldn’t”
  • “They probably make more money than I do” (on a side note, I have seen so many stories where this is the case – people choosing to be professional beggars and making very good tax free income at it, and many are not even homeless at all).
  • “Giving them money only encourages them to not get a real job”
  • “They don’t deserve my hard earned money”
  • “People giving them money in the past hasn’t helped them before, why would it now?”

Why you Might Give Money to Panhandlers

On the flip-side, there’s a bit of a humanitarian in all of us, and we’ve all been down on our luck once or twice in the past. Panhandlers can pull on our emotions and a giver may argue that giving them their spare change made them feel good about themselves, even if only for a short period.

And lets not forget – they are human beings despite falling on bad luck/hard times.

With that, I’ll throw the question out there to the readers:

  • Do you give money to panhandlers? (take the poll)
  • Why or why not? (leave your comment)

Do you Give Money to Panhandlers?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.

  • Grant Tidmore says:

    I live in Waco, tx, which has a significant percentage of it’s population living below poverty rate. Being a Baylor student, I often run into my fellow wacoans with no cash. I usually bring them back food or water because often times they are dehydrated.

  • I don’t generally give it to people who look to be in good health. There’s one guy I know who hangs out by the escalator from the subway, and he’s decently dressed, shaved, etc…. so I wonder if he’s doing this as an experiment or what!

    Then you have the mentally ill or others who are what I call the “true homeless”, since it would be much more difficult for them to get out of their situation. I am much more willing to give to people in that situation; although I know that they cannot get out of that situation, I can only hope that at least it helps them a bit. I also donate to charities that help these people, but this is not as good as giving or helping directly.

  • Honey says:

    I will give them food or (if I have it) change (not bills). The last time a guy asked me for money for food, though, I offered him an apple instead and he ROLLED HIS EYES AT ME. Yeah, so I’m in a “no” streak currently.

  • Wizard Prang says:

    I’m with Honey… er… maybe I should rephrase that.

    I will not give them money, but if they have a need and I can meet it (food, warm clothing etc.) I will help as best I can.

    The last time a guy told me he was hungry, I went to a nearby fast-food joint and got a burger, fries and a drink. When I gave it to him, he thanked me repeatedly while he tore into it like he was starving… cos he was.

    And that, my friends, is how we roll…

  • Joe says:

    I guess it depends on whether or not I’ve recently read sad news stories about homeless people.

  • John says:

    Guy I knew years ago gave someone food. The guy threw it on the ground and started swearing that he wanted money.

  • Mary says:

    I have a friend who buys gift cards to McDonald’s and gives them out to homeless folks. That way, the whole “I don’t know how this money is being spent” doesn’t exist.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I agree with a lot of the commentators on the ‘giving them something they need’ rule – i.e. water, food, clothing. You can tell which ones are REALLY struggling by their weight, teeth, how dirty they are, vs. ones that might be ‘pros’. Giving the ones who are struggling the most life essentials can rarely be a bad thing. However, the voters are not voting that way in the poll!

  • Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says:

    I have given change a few times out of guilt, but mostly I only give food. I even went through a drive through nearby once and bought a guy a whole meal since he looked hungry and thirsty. I’ve donated quite a few bananas and apples to the homeless as well since I always seem to have one left from lunch. A few times, I gave Halloween candy since I had leftovers…

  • Ron Ablang says:

    @Honey & Budgeting: Ummm. By offering your fruits, aren’t you giving away the healthiest parts of your meal or snack?

    I agree that giving food is less likely to be abused, but sometimes it gets abused anyway. It’s hard for me to wanna help these people b/c it seems all for naught.

  • JoeTaxpayer says:

    I decided some time ago, I’d never walk by a fellow human being with his/her hand out and ignore them. I live in a suburb, so the only time I have to live by these words is when visiting a city, and over the course of a year, the dollar bills (or visits into the McDonald’s) don’t add up to more than a percent of the donations to organizations we make over the year.

    There’s a story of two men of the cloth walking together, and the first keeps pulling out a dollar for each beggar. The second tells him, “I won’t give any of them a dollar on the chance that one will buy drugs, not food.” The first replies,”I’ll give every one I pass a dollar, hoping that one of them will buy food.”

    My own experience – I was in Chicago on business with a client. I had my usual wad of singles available, and handed out about $10 when this guy with me asked “how can you give every person you pass with their hand out a dollar?” I didn’t miss a beat, I asked,”How can you pass a dozen people and not reach into your pocket even once?”

    In the end, I don’t know what’s right or wrong, I just know I feel better treating these people as I’d like to be treated.

    • Kim says:

      I agree I drove by a older man and he was holding a sign. The sign said God Bless I stopped and asked why he was there and he said his truck was broke down and he was from outta town . In my heart I felt like giving something to him not a lot just a few dollars I asked him to pay it forward he said thank you and I went on my way. A person who gives is in touchable with backlash from those who don’t give I will continue giving and those that believe they’ll get scammed can continue to think the same I win overall :) god bless

  • Honey says:

    @Ron Ablang, I am a vegetarian and usually am bringing homemade leftovers to work. There’s nothing I eat that’s not healthy…except maybe beer, but to be fair I don’t bring that to work with me!

  • “He looked normal, maybe mid 40s, should be capable of finding a new job. Instead he stood there with his sign, selling over-priced bottled water ($2 each when a whole case cost about the same in CVS).”

    In many parts of Asia, it is very rare to see an outright beggar. Most people sell something or another, and you can often find many interesting items.

    The funniest thing here is that if this happened here, the police would probably arrest the guy for breaking some kind of commerce regulation. If he just begged for money instead, he’d be more or less left alone.

  • JoeTaxpayer says:

    Jessu –
    I’ll share three more brief beggar stories:

    One of them, I shouted at “Go get a real job, do something with your life” and gave him $2. He held a sign that said,”Tell me off, $2″ He said about half those who gave him money took the time to stop and actually say something.

    Another, I did not give. She held a sign “Help keep the Irish drunk.” Call me a hypocrite, there’s a difference between my hoping they’ll buy food and having this shoved in my face.

    In California on vacation. A guy wearing what looked like a legitimate laminated ID showing details that he served in Vietnam. He promised to go right into a restaurant to get lunch with the money. I gave him $10 and said “thank you for serving.” With a kind smile, he replied “you’re the first person ever to say that to me.”

  • Honey says:

    These stories jarred my memory, I remember within a week of the guy who rolled his eyes when he asked for money for food and I offered him an apple instead, I met another guy who told me that he was fifty cents short of bus fare. I gave him a dollar and he IMMEDIATELY asked for more money. I said no – in addition to the fact that he had just made himself a liar, he was obviously tweaking – but that was when I stopped giving.

  • Jessu says:

    I like beggars who put in effort. I once gave some money to a guy who asked for a penny, and in return he would write me a poem about anything. I gave him a few bucks for his short poem because even though it wasn’t that great, I thought it was cute.

    Over the weekend I saw a man holding a sign that read how he’s unemployed and has two children. He looked normal, maybe mid 40s, should be capable of finding a new job. Instead he stood there with his sign, selling over-priced bottled water ($2 each when a whole case cost about the same in CVS). On one hand I felt that he should be looking for a job, on the other hand I know what it’s like to look for a job and maybe he really has been submitting resumes online but feels rather useless (you have a lot of free time even while job hunting). I saw that he had sold more than half his water already, and I think even I would buy from him because he humbled himself for the sake of his kids. It might be a strategy, but I wouldn’t go sell water no matter how broke I become.

  • Aury (Thunderdrake) says:

    I wish I could read minds. Each panhandler is different. I wish there was a way to weed out the incompetent from the genuinely needy.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I work for a public agency. One of our tasks is to sometimes monitor those cameras mounted at signalized intersections.

    I once saw a panhandler get a citation ticket and fine for doing his thing in the raised island center median. So yes, you can nark on them if they are in the public roadway by calling your state highway patrol.

  • avery says:

    Please don’t give to panhandlers! Give to the soup kitchen s, homeless shelters, addiction counslers, etc. When you give to the panhandler it is almost always used to feed their addictions(most homeless battle with various addictions). If the city you are in doesn’t have a good support system for the homeless, buy food to give them,just–please, please don’t give cash-not even your change. Many places I have been have installed change boxes on posts(think parking meters w/out meters)for the purpose of discouraging panhandling and making sure the donations that people give are being spent in a way that makes them go the farthest in assisting them. The $ goes to shelters, soup kitchens, etc. Nashville TN, Indianapolis IN, & Asheville NC all have this program in place with posters abound encouraging those to “give at the box,” or whatever each city calls them & to tell panhandlers when asked that that is what you do or have done with your change. I think it is a great solution for this issue that many cities face.

    *sorry for lack of spell check-typed on mobile…

  • Emily R. says:

    avery, I’m really glad you added that note! I don’t give to panhandlers any longer; instead I donate money to the main homeless shelter in my city. I do still feel guilty when I pass by people begging but I know they can avail themselves of the services I support should they want to. I probably give more per year to the shelter than I would to people on the streetcorner anyway.

  • Hayley says:

    Never again will I give money to people..
    About 3 weeks ago I was at thr gas station and tthis suv pulled up beside me as I was about to leave and the guy inside asks for gas money and gives me this story about how he needs to go to nashville for something. I fell for it and I gave him like 10 bucks..i know im stupid. Thrn today, I was in a parking lot getting in my car about to leave..and the SAME car pulls up in the spit next to me and its the same guy..he gives me the same story about nashville bla bla bla. I didnt give him money this time because now I know he was lying. I wonder how much money he must make just driving around asking ppl for money. Some people are just ughhhh. I hope he loses all of his money and his stupid suv

  • David says:

    I listen to Kidd Kraddick in the Morning and he once told a story about walking in NYC late at night and a large homeless man asked him for money. He gave the man $5 because he was a large man. Once the man realized he was given $5 the man started yelling “Only $5, you’re a cheap SOB”

  • brian says:

    are you kidding me? seriously, are u actually saying that you dont give to people because they arent nice? Ok, if a person is homeless, has NOTHING,

  • Warren says:

    First off, giving money to a beggar involves publicly displaying which pocket you have your money in, and possibly how much money you have, of use to a pickpocket standing across the street, who might have no connection to the beggar.

    Secondly, if the person is a drug user, anything you give them eventually increases drug use. If you give them food, they no longer have to spend their own money for food and can instead use that money for drugs.

    The funny thing is that if someone on the street says they want money for a bottle of wine, they are potentially the most truthful beggar you will meet.

  • mike says:

    i wont ever give to beggars. i know a woman personally whos married,has a decent place to live. husband works. she goes to the local winn dixie and other stores with a sign saying shes homeless,needs food. she drinks all the money she gets!


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