Should I give money to panhandlers?

Q: I’ve been thinking a lot about the poor recently. Should I give money to panhandlers?  Do you?  What if they might buy booze with it?  Does it matter? Should you instead support them another way? Like how?  Since America’s poor are relatively better off than in many other countries, should we donate more money to the poor around the world than locally?

A:  First off, if you are an adult and in charge of your money, you can give money to whoever you want despite any taboos against it. Does the average panhandler deserve your money? That is an entirely different question and will be circumstantial on who the panhandler is and your relationship with said panhandler. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of people weigh in on the issue and while they are split as to whether or not actual currency should be involved, the majority typically agree that something should be done to help. When it comes to possible booze buying or potentially helping someone in a harmful addiction by supplying them with cashflow, use your best judgement and the rest is out of your control. If they are holding a brown paper special with a bottle in it, probably best to give them fresh clean socks to wear or buy them a meal. If however they are a family near a gas station that have a broken down vehicle that you have never seen panhandling before, money may be the best thing to get them up and running. There is also an idea regarding Conditional Cash Transfers that are essentially small loans or payments to the poor on the condition they use it to better their situation. For more insight into CCT’s I recommend David Stupay‘s recent blog which has a few helpful links as well.

As for the question, “should we donate more money to the poor around the world than locally?” Why do we need to choose one or the other? Regardless of the american lower class being relatively better off, they are still people who need help and at times it is easier to help those who are in your own backyard than across the globe.  I also believe in being a part of a global community and believe that we have the wealth here in America to make a difference.  All that being said I know that there are varying reasons to choose either local or global, and to that I say to each his own.  The beauty of living in a community is when we all start doing our part to help one another we have the ability to reach everyone.

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2 responses to “Should I give money to panhandlers?

  1. I used to feel bad whenever I saw panhandlers in the U.S. now I feel more apathy. I think that has more to do with all the stories I’ve heard about people ‘faking poverty’ as a living. There was a scruff guy I saw at a local Costco with a baby and a sign that read, “Baby needs formula.” A few weeks later I heard on the radio during a segment called “radio confessions,” an unemployed guy who would take his sister’s baby when he was babysitting out to various store locations and use a sign that said, “Baby needs formula,” and would make $1,000 a day along with getting a bunch of formula.

    I’ve always seen the war on poverty to be an impossible battle. Giving people fish rather than teaching. Giving people fish who refuse to try and learn to fish and want a hamburger instead. The more wild idea would be to outlaw poverty, and have communities get more involved. Heck, while we’re at it, we should get rid of greed, too. 😉

  2. Jill… What an amazing blog entry! I love it. Inspiring and thought provoking. I play it by ear as well and usually give to the ones I don’t see as often. The same ones that work the street corners daily don’t appeal to me. Pan-handling should definitely not be a career choice. It’s a last resort.

    Inspiration to give finds me when I connect with the ones who don’t seem to hide their truth, wearing it on their faces.

    Thank you for touching on this subject. Bravo!