Do You Give to Panhandlers?

The last place I worked at was on the outskirts of downtown, close to some railroad tracks and the river and just a couple of blocks away from a homeless shelter. I was there for over 18 years and it was a traffic corridor for the homeless. They passed by following the tracks, or on the way to the shelter, or heading back to camp along the river.

There were around 35 of us in the building when I started and due to attrition and technological advances our numbers by the end had dwindled to less than 20. If we were outside or had the warehouse overhead doors open we could observe the stream of bedraggled humanity ebbing and flowing along the corridor. They would usually travel alone, sometimes with all of their earthly belongings in a pack and other times just searching for cans and bottles to redeem for the deposit. Some kept to themselves, others would wave or nod as they passed while a few it was obvious had entered a different, distant state of being.

Once in a while one of them would approach asking for a cigarette or money. Some of my coworkers would always dig to find what was requested while others never gave a thing. Before I quit smoking I would usually be willing to hand out a cigarette if requested but I rarely gave money, as the ones asking were usually inebriated and I didn’t want to contribute to their condition. Every now and then a sad story would come spilling out before they asked for what they were wanting and that would serve as more of a connect for me. To be told a tale of woe face to face by a fellow human being who is obviously suffering would usually get me to digging in my pockets to offer some kind of relief.

Thinking back on those times got me to wondering how others respond to these requests. Do you give to panhandlers?

Related Reading:

How to Pick Up Cans for Fun and Profit 

Food Banks, Pantries and Soup Kitchens: How to Find Food in Times of Need 

Giving to Charities 


  1. My sister is one of the administrators at the Portland Rescue Mission. Here are

    7 IDEAS for helping
    a homeless man or woman

    1. Anticipate the opportunity and be prepared.

    2. Smile and actually say hello. Go out of your way to approach rather than avoid them. Acknowledging the person shows respect. It gives dignity.

    3. Engage the person. Start a conversation. Take time to listen.

    4. Don't give money. Ask what their greatest need is. If money, what will they do with it? Think creatively about how to help. In most cases, meeting the actual immediate need for food or clothing is best.

    5. Offer an alternative. Keep care packages with you that include socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, bottled water, healthy food items or gift certificates for food. Include our meal vouchers (PDF).

    6. Carry public transportation ( tickets and encourage them to get to Portland Rescue Mission for food, shelter and other immediate needs (Skidmore Fountain stop). Let the person know that you support Portland Rescue Mission so that their needs will be met.

    7. Afterward, be sure to pray for both their physical needs as well as their spiritual hunger.

  2. I don't. I learned a long time ago that there are a lot of cons on the street, and looks can be deceiving. I came upon a trash picker once, and he was loading his finds into a truck that was newer than the car I drive. A police officer said that you really can't tell by looking at them who is really needy and who isn't, and often money given is used for drugs or alcohol rather than for food or shelter. I will give to nonprofits helping those who need help, but I won't give to panhandlers.

  3. I lived in NY for about 10 years and was approached regularly for hand outs "for something to eat". I once gave a guy all the change I had (and since I was a poor art student it was all I had and it wasn't much) and he despised me for it. That was an eye opener. After thinking it over and after becoming employed and actually having money, I started giving food out, which usually meant picking somehting up and bringing it back to them. The people who are really hungry will take it, the druggies and drunks won't.

  4. I live in San Diego a panhandlers paradise, I will never give them in a dime. There are lots of programs for the down and out, they need to get off their butts and do something for themselves, taking advantage of the programs would be a good place to start.

  5. Sounds like many people would like to help if only they knew for sure they would not be taken advantage of. Giving directly to the shelters is a good idea, it's what my wife and I do. Thanks for the comments.


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