Social Question

Unbroken's avatar

Do you give to panhandlers?

Asked by Unbroken (10690points) November 22nd, 2012

I often see the same people with the same sign on the same street corners. In the winter in Alaska, they often wear better outdoor gear then I do.

They have hot food given to them from nearby restaurants. I wonder what their story is, or why street corners when they are outside as long or longer then a regular 8 hour shift.

I still feel guilty when I have to stop next to them. I avoid looking at them. I mean I don’t have extra I do donate, I give rides to people that are stranded.

I give the person in line in front of me enough change to buy their paper, or lunch.

Why do I feel guilty? Am I the only one? I don’t even know if these people need the money. When people come up to me with a sob story halfway believable I usually give them something if I have it. Do you?

What would be a better way to handle these situations?

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39 Answers

Bellatrix's avatar

I don’t feel guilty. I feel sad. I have said this a number of times here, I can’t understand why there are so many people on the street or having to beg for handouts on the street in Australia. It isn’t as bad here as in other countries, but still, we are one of the strongest economies in the world. Eight percent of our people should not be living on the street.

So, I give. I don’t worry about whether the person needs the money. I don’t give a lot but I will drop change in their container. I hope it helps them.

rooeytoo's avatar

I usually offer to take them to MacDonalds for a meal. I figure if they don’t find that acceptable, then they aren’t very desperate and don’t need my money more than I do.

I do give to organizations such as Salvation Army because I know that the money is going to go to actually help someone, not buy booze and ciggies. I don’t care if you buy booze and cigs but you aren’t going to do it with my money! I can put it to better use than that.

trailsillustrated's avatar

yes I do. I have been homeless. In the wintertime. I don’t give to everybody: I give to goodlookin young people, I give to polite people, I have a way that I can tell the drug using scammers from the honest hard of luck, or the marginalized, and disenfranchised. I have been there. I have never begged, but I certainly know the bite of poverty and homelessness.

cookieman's avatar

Sometimes – but I’ve also offered them food and always give to the Salvation Army.

YARNLADY's avatar

I sometimes do, but usually I give them a card that is provided by a charity foundation that lists the places they can receive help.

Aethelwine's avatar

I have in the past, but I think the last time I’ve seen a panhandler was at least 15 years ago, if not longer.

YARNLADY's avatar

I think we have a panhandler’s union or something. Sometimes I see them on multiple corners with identical signs written in black marker, same wording, same lettering on neatly cut cardboard.

FreshlyBaked's avatar

Yes, I give to panhandlers. I have spare change and a spare tire around my waistline. I must be doing okay.

I was once travelling through Myanmar. All the very young Buddhist monks there beg and give what they receive to their monastery. I had my window down in the taxi, and a boy stuck his bowl in. I put in the smallest denomination of paper money I had. If I remember correctly, it was worth about 2 cents.

My handler was rummaging through his pockets the whole time, looking for coins, desperately trying to stop me. As we pulled away, I saw the young monk with the widest smile I’d seen on my trip there. It turned out I’d given him what amounted to his average receipts for a whole month.

2 cents.

Here in the States, I give to panhandlers. The dirtier the better, I say. If they’re feeding an alcohol or drug habit, perhaps my little addition to their funds will fuel the binge that allows them to “hit their bottom” as the phrase goes, I believe. I have little to give, but I share.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Yes, I do. I even keep money in my wallet for this exact purpose. And since I neither know their needs nor have any right to determine their priorities for them, I do not try to offer them substitutes or anything else for which they have not asked. I also refuse to discriminate. A lot of people try not to give to addicts, but that just increases the likelihood of someone resorting to crime to get their fix. If I can’t solve the problem, I can at least try to keep it in a bit of a holding pattern.

Shippy's avatar

I find the whole thing exhausting. I tried to find stats on SA’s homeless, but I could only find the unemployment figures. Some reports said it was as high as 45%. Also not many get grants and if you do it is around R800.00 a month. Not much you can do with $8.00. The result is homeless people standing at every single traffic light in the city, sometimes banging on your car window, some just look sick and sad. Many are under 12 also. It is just too much to think about.

A lot ‘sniff glue’, they hold an old plastic container to their noses and sniff all day. Goodness knows what it does to their brains and nasal passages.

As far as I know we do not even offer shelters. One lady I know, has a son who is severely disabled. She relies on gifts and hand outs. Also for her sons wheelchair. As here those things are bought not given. She is also highly intelligent. I have a chat with her daily on my way to the shop. She also has interesting stories like how to buy the cheapest bread and to get off cuts of cold meat at the butchers.

I get angry really as when I was employed I was in the highest tax bracket. Then around 40% and really we get nothing for it.

I think that is why a lot of us pray here, and have a belief as we cannot believe in anything else at times.

augustlan's avatar

I do, if I can.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I rarely give to panhandlers. I donate to causes and help out people I know. I do not give simply because someone asks. I will help anyone on the road – at any time. (I should add that I’m not stupid I’m very aware – and armed.) I’ve given full gas cans to people out of gas. I’ve taken people to work…. But I do not give to someone just because they ask.
I feel guilty passing someone by. But, I have found that when if do give, later, I always feel that my generosity was being taken advantage of. If the person is standing on the same street corner every day, apparently my donation is not helping them get out of their situation.

bkcunningham's avatar

The beggars I’ve encountered on the streets are as varied as the numerous places I’ve lived throughout my life. The saddest and seemingly most hopeless are in Washington, DC. Many of these people have true mental health issues. It is a sad and disturbing part of our American history. The well intentioned programs don’t work and/or get scammed by those responsible for helping those in need. There is a special place in hell for these people.

I think the people who beg are as different as each of us and have reasons as varied as us too.

wundayatta's avatar

Life is random, and so am I. I could be homeless one day, if I get sick enough. It doesn’t seem likely, but it is possible.

I don’t give to everyone who asks. I don’t really have any algorithm for deciding who to give to, or how much. Sometimes, if someone asks for change, I’ll give them change. If they ask for no specific amount, I might give anywhere between a dollar and twenty dollars, depending on what is in my pocket, how frazzled I feel, and how random I feel.

I don’t care if they need a fix or need food. When I give them the money, it is up to them how to use it. I give because they ask, and because maybe they need it, but need is such a vague term. I know they could go to a shelter or a food kitchen. I know they could dumpster dive. I know that maybe relatives could take them in.

I know that maybe relatives have kicked them out. I know they might have stolen from relatives and friends and worn out their welcome everywhere. I know they might hate the shelters because they are dehumanizing or dangerous.

But there’s no way of telling any individual’s story without asking and then taking the time to get the story. That’s not something that interests me. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t.

So I’m random. Some days I walk by without acknowledging them. Some days I’ll nod hello and walk on by. Some days I’ll fish around in my pocket and give them something without really looking at them. Some days I give and say hello.

Most panhandlers don’t take it personally. Occasionally someone does. But it isn’t personal. We don’t know each other. We don’t owe each other anything.

And one day, should I end up on the street, no one will owe me anything. Indeed, if I am on the street, it will probably be because I am ready to die, and I won’t want anyone to help me out. But like I said, I doubt if I will ever get to that point. It’s just having had, at one point in my life, wanted to be in the gutter, I know it could happen again, and the desire might even be strong enough to get them there. But I doubt it.

chyna's avatar

I do when I can.

filmfann's avatar

My Grandfather and my Niece both chose the homeless life. They were not forced into it.
I cannot speak to my Grandfather, but my Niece sees it as a dodge; as an easy way to get hand outs. I cannot support that way of life.
Sure, there are lots of people who didn’t have a choice, and have to live under freeway overpasses; of this I have no doubt.
My Mom would think of her father, and often give money to people on corners with signs. She would also take warm clothes out to huddles of homeless, and just give it to them.

Dsg's avatar

I remember when I was living in Fla, I had some extra money and gave someone $20. The sign the women had in her hands was talking about being homeless and that she needed to get a plane ticket to fly to be near family or something like that. She wrote on the sign about believing in God and God bless you all. About a month later, I saw her in another city with a different sign. I felt so used and angry. I haven’t given away money like that again. I read in the newspaper awhile back that there are people who use that as their job and make a decent living collecting money from people. Since then, I don’t give money away. My feeling is that I would rather give food to someone homeless because I know they must also be hungry. I have heard that a lot of those people are alcoholics. I could be wrong, but just what I was told.

josie's avatar


I do however give money to the local and national organizations that exist to help the helpless and needy.

The fact is, panhandling has become a clever and creative way to make a living for some people who are otherwise capable of actually holding a job. It is difficult at times to tell the charlatans from the hopeless. But every time you give to one of the cheaters, you are enabling them and diverting resources from the organizations that have systems in place to identify, reach out to, and help the truly destitute.

By the way, a good way to spot the con artists is to get a little bit in their face and ask them things like where they were born, do they have kids, how did they get this way etc. The career beggers are not used to that kind of bracing, and they are often enough not prepared to answer, and their answers are clearly bullshit. The genuinely disabled, most of them being mentally compromised in the first place, will try to answer, but ramble. Try it.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I do, if I actually have cash in my pocket to give to these people. A lot of people who end up ‘pan-handling’ have been caught up in a job loss that has put them on the street. Most of us are just a ‘job loss’ away from being on the street. Of course I realize that numerous people who end up on the street have addiction problems (either to alcohol or to drugs), but I look at it as even these people need to eat in order to survive. So, I give them money if I have any money in my pocket when I see them. I also give to the various Homeless Shelters & soup kitchens & food pantries (not as much now that I have retired), but when I can make a donation, I do. I have been both hungry & homeless, so I know how alone & empty it can make you feel.

bkcunningham's avatar

I would love to know how the people like @Linda_Owl, @trailsillustrated and @filmfann‘s relatives became homeless and how they pulled themselves out of the situation and now have a home. I bet we would have some fabulous stories.

Unbroken's avatar

@bkcunningham agreed.
@josie thank you. I have talked to enough people who have admitted to doing it because of need but they made so much money that they kept on. Stories etc.

I do know what it is like to be needy, to wonder if you have enough food or gas to make it to next payday. If I am in that slump now I look for another job. It doesn’t have to be much. But if it gets me over the hump its worth it to me. I have too much pride to stand at a corner. Though I have been tempted.

So I do feel pity empathy, but also angry. I have seen the life of addicts up close. How they will never hit rock bottom, or that they have been on the bottom so long it’s a way of life. There is always some person to use. And how they tear up the lives of others.

If that makes me mean and judgemental. Well. I feel bad about it, but I can’t be every one’s doormat.

Only138's avatar

Sometimes I will offer to buy them things…but I don’t give out cash. If you’re really in need of food or something, I can afford to help you out…but if you want it for vices…forget that shit.

rooeytoo's avatar

@rosehips I completely agree, addicts are the most manipulative of all, they even surpass children with their prowess. The mentally ill, that is a different story. But I do know the illness keeps many from the solution to their problems. I wonder where their families are. And yes @Only138, I am with you also, if one is truly hungry and destitute, they will jump at the opportunity for food.

AshlynM's avatar

No. I don’t know their story or if they are truly homeless or just trying to get money. I have seen several news stories about people pretending to be homeless when they’re really not. I want to know my money is going to someone who actually needs it.

wundayatta's avatar

I think that some 60% of the homeless are mentally ill. People end up that way out of mental illness in many cases. They simply don’t have the togetherness it takes to keep themselves in a home. Many of the mentally ill use drugs and alcohol as self-medication for their illness.

This is why it doesn’t bother me if they spend the money on drugs. I don’t feel used. I feel like when I give money away, it is not mine any more. I don’t get to have a say in how it is spent. I don’t get to judge others.

If you feel used by the beggar who uses the money in a way you don’t approve of, then the problem thing to do is not give out money. Give it to a program. A charity that helps.

Since I am incapable of knowing who will use money well and who won’t, I just give it out randomly. I might give to charities, too. But I don’t mind spending it on grifters. They can be entertaining.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@josie @rosehips I don’t understand being upset at people just because they’ve made some sort of strange career out of begging. It seems especially in conflict with @josie‘s views about ethics and economics, but I’ll leave that to the side. So they have an unusual job—so what? Everyone’s trying to make their way through the world, and this is a way some people have found that works.

It reminds me of a discussion I once had after being criticized for giving money to a panhandler. A young woman taking a cigarette break scoffed at me and said, “He makes more money than I do!” “Well,” I replied, “perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong career then.” She wrinkled her nose a little and said, “No way. I don’t want to sit out on the street all day or sleep outside in the rain.” “Okay, then. He’s made his choice, and you’ve made yours,” I answered. “And all he has to put up with is heaps of scorn, terrible weather, and the occasional verbal abuse. Sounds ideal.”

We all choose what do with our lives by assessing what we are willing to do, what we are able to do, and which of the available options seems best when all things are considered. I’ve chosen to make less money in exchange for a career I love. Others choose to put money first when choosing a career and get their pleasure exclusively out of their leisure time. Is one option better than the other? Not absolutely. While an obsession with money is certainly unhealthy for anyone, making it the deciding factor in your profession does not necessarily mean one is obsessed.

YARNLADY's avatar

My main objection to beggars is that they don’t pay taxes even though they use public resources. One claimed that he makes $60,000 a year tax free.

rooeytoo's avatar

$60,000 grand a year!!!! damn I’m going to get out my magic marker and work on signs! and tax free, in Australia that’s the equivalent of what you have left after paying tax on about 100 grand per year!

SavoirFaire's avatar

@YARNLADY That’s not an objection to begging as a career. It’s an objection to tax evasion, which is a separate issue.

josie's avatar

@SavoirFaire The question was do I give to panhandlers.
The answer is no.
But if we accept that some people who are unemployable may eventually wind up begging for money, I say contribute to the voluntary organizations that are best prepared to make sure they have a chance and getting some basic level of food or shelter.
As for the professional panhandlers, I do not give to them either, because they provide no goods or services in return. No conflict in my views there.

chyna's avatar

@josie How can you tell a “professional panhandler” from someone who is truly down and out?

josie's avatar

@chyna Go ahead and refer to my original post

bkcunningham's avatar

I have witnessed with my own eyes a woman pull into a parking lot and park a quad-cab pickup truck, get out and go relieve a man begging in the median in front of our local Sonic. He picked up his cooler and went and got in the truck and left while she took over his sign that something along the lines of homeless, hungry and kids to feed. The Walmart they parked at and the Sonic both hire all the time. I don’t know their particular circumstances and can only relate what I saw. It struck me as odd.

I’ve seen people who were homeless and the one thing that is a given is their hygiene isn’t very good and their clothing isn’t usually clean. The men aren’t usually clean shaven with neatly cut hair. Another thing that is obvious with a female begger is her dyed hair. A homeless person most likely isn’t keeping their roots covered. Just saying.

I don’t judge anyone for giving to people. It is your money. Do with it what you want as long as you aren’t hurting anyone. But just remember that the professional beggers who are lying are taking food and charity from someone who could sincerely use the help. That is what bothers me about just giving to make yourself feel better.

Do like @josie says and take the time to talk to them like they are humans. Work at a shelter or soup kitchen or organization that helps those in need. We should look out for one another and to me that means helping those in need and not being taken in by scammers.

wundayatta's avatar

We came out of a movie tonight and a woman asked me for 80 cents.

Why 89 cents? Why can’t you ask for a dollar or something?

Don’t be rude, she said.

I went fishing for a few dollars, but I only had a twenty and I wasn’t going to give that away tonight in front of my wife and kids. I would never hear the end of it.

Besides which, if you’re begging for money, I don’t think it helps if you insult the person who might give you some.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@josie My objection wasn’t to your not giving. What I found odd was that you called a subgroup of panhandlers “cheaters” merely because they had made a different professional choice than you. It’s just another clever application of capitalism, so I don’t see what grounds you have for denigrating it. I understand why you don’t participate in or with it, but that’s an entirely separate issue.

@bkcunningham The so-called “professional” beggars—and aren’t they all professionals if it’s how they make their living?—only take food or charity from someone else if giving to people on the street prevents you from giving directly to other charities. I give to both, and I can only be charitable to people on the street if I pass them. So the money I dedicate to that cannot go to someone else because it can only go to the people I encounter. Thus the “diverting resources” argument makes no sense.

@wundayatta You asked her why she wasn’t being greedier, which she may have taken as an implication that you thought she would be. Plenty of panhandlers take pride in only asking for what they need. It’s a source of dignity for them in a situation that often tries to rob them of it. I’m not saying that you were being rude, but I can understand why she might have seen it that way.

bkcunningham's avatar

These aren’t the homeless swapping signs and begging that I was referring to watching from Sonic. Neither are these people. I see a big difference.

Unbroken's avatar

@SavoirFaire Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

Unbroken's avatar

I have thought about this. And I think I figured out the answer to my own question.

I feel angry with them because we pay for them in multiple ways. It’s not that they just don’t pay taxes. We pay more on our electric and utility bill because of the non payers. Family members where those that have made a life style choice end up paying time and time again in their home. They put up with sick angry users who abuse their family verbally or otherwise and often end up stealing from them. They get picked up on the street or commit minor crimes for a warm night and three squares at county. As well as hospital costs.

Many of them could stay at the shelter but since there is no alcohol or drugs allowed people only do it when they are really desperate. They do property damage and sometimes start fires, in the valley there is an inversion. It is hard enough to have quality air and stay without carelessness caused by drunk or impairedness.

And in the summer we end up cleaning up their bodies.

And it’s so sad because it’s a waste of life. But if you give them money they invariably spend it on the next bottle. They take advantage of your kindness and refuse to carry their own weight. Insisting on others to do it for them. And what is the solution????

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